USB-C vs. Lightning

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USB-C vs. Lightning

Apple’s iPhone uses a proprietary Lightning connector instead of the industry standard USB-C port. This article compares USB-C vs. Lightning.

Being innovative isn’t easy. To innovate, one must often go against norms and standards. For over a decade, Apple used its proprietary 30-pin dock connector. This connector worked well for Apple products, as it provided room to grow. As Apple devices started adding support for video and other features, the data could be transmitted in parallel through the connector. The problem was that the connector was rather large. For a company that prides itself in making slim devices, it was time for a change.

A Brief History of the Lightning Connector

The Lightning connector was introduced in 2012, much to the dismay of vocal critics. Any change that Apple makes is destined to be criticized. The removal of the iPhone’s 3.5mm headphone jack also created a furor. The common complaint was that people would need to buy new accessories, or at least an adapter. The truth is that the 30-pin connector actually had a very long lifespan. A decade is an eternity in the world of technology. Apple’s 30-pin Dock connector impeded innovation.

The reality is that Apple once again had to go proprietary in order to innovate. Lightning was released two years prior to USB-C. Contemporary technologies, such as micro-USB simply weren’t good enough. Indeed, Apple’s Lightning connector influenced the design of USB-C. Apple actually contributed to the design of USB-C.

The similarities between Lightning and USB-C are obvious, but they’re not the same thing. Lightning ports are slimmer and more suitable for mobile devices. Despite what the rumors suggest, Apple is not going to replace Lightning ports with USB-C on the iPhone and iPad.

A Brief History of USB-C

Debuting in 2014, the USB-C standard evolved from a group of contributors, including 18 Apple employees. There’s a perception that Apple doesn’t play well with others, which is undeserved. The original iMac was actually the first computer that offered USB ports, back when PCs still had parallel and serial interfaces.

USB-C is an evolution of previous USB standards, and an attempt to be future proof (yeah, right). It’s possible to connect an older device to a new computer using a USB-A/B to USB-C cable. There are numerous USB hubs and docking stations that can multiply ports and provide connectivity for older USB devices. That said, the future of device connectivity is wireless, which is why some newer Apple notebooks only have one USB port.

It’s important to note that USB-C and the USB 3.1 standard are not the same thing. It’s possible for a USB-C port to not support USB 3.1. This exactly the sort of confusion that Apple tries to avoid.

USB-C vs. Lightning

Although Apple contributed to the development of USB-C, it’s not the same thing as Lightning. The most obvious difference is that Lightning ports are smaller. This gives Apple an advantage. They can make slimmer devices.

Lightning may also be more durable than USB-C. With Lightning, the connecting tabs are on the cable itself. USB-C has connecting tabs on the port. Since these tabs are possible points of failure, Lightning ports are more durable. If you happen to break the tabs on a Lightning cable, it’s easily remedied by replacing the cable. If they break on a USB-C port, the port on the device must be replaced. This is a huge difference in durability.

Both Lightning and USB-C are capable of conducting power at varying wattages. Apple doesn’t publicly disclose these specifications, however, they are available to third-party manufacturers. It seems that the power limits of USB were one of the reasons why Apple developed Lightning in the first place.

It’s safe to assume that Lightning can handle up to 12W of power, as provided by the iPad charger. Lightning can probably handle much more wattage, however, since it is designed for mobile devices, it’s simply not necessary. USB-C on the other hand, is known to handle up to 100 watts. This makes sense for desktop computers that are plugged in to a power source. USB-C could power a fairly loud amplifier or even a screen. This doesn’t mean that Lightning can’t do this, but your iPhone isn’t going to power a 100 watt amplifier. Since Lightning is not available on desktop computers, transmission of high wattage power isn’t necessary, although may be theoretically possible. next page →



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