After 11 years of lightning connector, USB-C finally arrives on iPhones. Whether it was the fundamental push of the European Union or whether it was a change already expected for some time, iPhones and AirPods remained the last Apple devices without USB-C, However, this is an important change.
Lightning was a connector that was starting to feel tight: Apple had engineered it many years before the arrival of USB-C, and at the time it was the best solution to create a mechanically robust, thin and space-saving connector that could replace the inconvenient micro-USB.
Over time the limitations have become evident: Lightning is a connector that It only has 8 pins insideduplicated on both sides to ensure reversibility, and this means no video output and no high-speed data connection.
To ensure video output, the Lightning to HDMI adapter that Apple has been selling for all these years is actually a small AirPlay receiver powered by the connector: since there aren’t enough pins to transmit a video signal, Apple decided to use the AirPlay protocol with all the obvious limitations of a signal that is still compressed.
We also had the feeling of being in front of an “old” connector starting last year, with the arrival of ProRes on video: transferring very heavy ProRes files with Lightning, based on USB 2.0, it takes such a large amount of time that perhaps it is more convenient to use AirDrop.
Apple users who switch to the new iPhone will be left with the many Lightning cables accumulated over the years. Cables to give as a gift to a friend who got a refurbished iPhone or to use to recharge the AirPods, provided that here too you haven’t switched to the new USB-C version.
However, what many are wondering is what changes on the practical sidewhere on the practical side we refer to the five aspects that can affect the connector: charging, data transfer, audio and video output, accessories and connection to the car.
Before analyzing them one by one, we would like to clarify that the iPhone’s USB-C connector has no limitations of any kind or even restrictions on the cables used: it is in all respects a standard connector.
Charging: do you need to change charger?
Apple stopped putting the charger in the iPhone box a few years ago, but the good news is any charger equipped with a USB-C socket it is able to recharge iPhones at the maximum speed allowed which we remember is 20 Watts.
The iPhone, like all other Apple devices, adheres to the official charging standard of the USB consortium, namely Power Delivery, present in every charger with a USB-C socket whether sold by Apple or sold by third parties .
This means that starting from the 20 Watt Apple charger, through those of the iPad, the Mac, the Anker chargers that can be bought on Amazon up to the Samsung chargers each charger will be adequate, compatible and will charge at maximum speed.
The same thing goes for cables: any cable that has a USB-C connector on both sides, like the one present in the iPhone or second generation AirPods Pro, It is adequate for charging iPhones at maximum speed.
Today 99.9% of USB-C cables charge at least 30 Watts, 90% charge at 60 Watts. Whether you buy an Apple cable or the 3 euro cable on Amazon for charging there will be no problems.
The iPhone 15 will also allow the charging of devices connected to it such as AirPods and Apple Watch, taking advantage of the lower profile of PowerDelivery, therefore 5V at 900 mA, 4.5 Watts total: you can connect the Apple Watch charger to the port of the iPhone or a USB-C/USB-C cable between AirPods and iPhone to charge accessories.
Data Transfer: Only iPhone 15 Pro (and Pro Max) are USB 3.2
The situation changes if you need to connect an iPhone 15 to your computer or iPad to back up or transfer photos and videos. iPhone 15 has the A16 processor inside, so the same processor as last year with USB 2.0 controller, iPhone 15 Pro has the new A17 Pro which has a 10 Gbit/s USB 3.2 Gen2 I/O module.
The rule is simple: any USB-C cable will allow you to transfer data at the maximum speed of USB 2, therefore 480 Mbit/s on both models, while if we use a particular cable on the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max we can reach a theoretical speed 20 times higher, 10 Gbit/s.
This cable is not included and must be purchased separately and there is no official Apple “only” USB 3.2 cable: the cable that Apple sells as the “240W USB-C Charging Cable (2 m)” is however a USB cable 2.
The only cables that can be used on the iPhone 15 Pro to achieve maximum transfer speed are the Apple Thunderbolt cables intended for professional products, compatible with Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4 and USB 4 (with speeds up to 40 Gbps) and USB 3 ( up to 10 Gbps). The 1 meter one costs 79 euros, the 3 meter one costs 179 euros.
There are many USB-C 3.2 cables on the market that cost much less but are not certified: Apple specifies that “Devices and cables that do not comply with the USB-C standard may not work as expected. In some situations, USB-C accessories and cables, such as third-party ones, can interfere with wireless connections”. A good, certified, high-speed cable costs money.
Standard audio output. For video there is DisplayPort
The USB-C port on iPhones is perfectly standard, and USB-C can also work as an audio device. This means that you can connect any USB-C headset, microphone or adapter like the one on DJI portable microphones and have complete management of audio input and digital audio output on the iPhone.
We asked Apple if the iPhone’s USB-C port implements USB Audio Class 1.0, therefore output at 32-bit/96kHz or 16-bit/192kHz stereo or if it even reaches 32-bit and 384 kHz, it could do so if implemented USB Audio Class 2.0. For those who listen to music via Apple Music or Apple Music Classical it would be great news, and we await answers.
The video part also changes, where the iPhone behaves similarly to the iPad: any USB-C to HDMI adapter will show the video output while maintaining the aspect ratio of the content except for those apps that manage a video output external 16:9, for example iMovie. In this case you will be able to see the app on the iPhone screen and the output on a TV spread across 16:9. While video output with the Lightning adapter was limited to 1080p, thanks to the USB-C output you can connect a full resolution 4K TV complete with HDR10 or Dolby Vision if the TV supports it.
If you want, you don’t even need an adapter: just a DisplayPort compatible USB-C / HDMI cable.
The transfer of data from the iPhone to the monitor travels via this standard: those who have a monitor with a USB-C DisplayPort input can even use a USB-C / USB-C cable to connect the iPhone to the TV. This connection, which requires an (expensive) Thunderbolt cable, also allows you to granularly manage the video output by managing both the dynamics and the color space and frame rate. Furthermore, if your monitor supports it, it also allows you to charge your iPhone.
There is a point to clarify: although video output is present on the entire iPhone 15 family, whether a USB-C port is DisplayPort compatible and has 4K HDR output has nothing to do with the speed of data transfer on the port. The iPhone 15 has 4K HDR output, can be connected with a Thunderbolt cable to a USB-C monitor but still has USB 2.0 data transfer, therefore limited to 480 Mbit/s.
Fully compatible with accessories
You can attach keyboards, memory card readers, cameras and external hard drives to the iPhone’s USB-C port using simply a USB-C / USB-C cable. In the case of the iPhone 15 Pro, by connecting a fast enough SSD disk, you will be able to record ProRes videos on an external disk to avoid saturating the internal storage, which is inadequate to manage heavy videos such as ProRes.
For those who have particular accessories equipped with a Lightning connector, for example some external camera modules and some sensors released in recent years for professional use, Apple sells an adapter that allows you to connect a Lightning device to the USB-C port.
Nothing changes in the car: CarPlay continues to work as before
Apple rightly pushes the USB-C connection, but even today there are dozens of products with a USB type A port, the flat one. Regardless of the fact that in 2023 it should be prohibited to place chargers with a USB type A port on the market, the single charger must be only and exclusively the one with USB-C (with all due respect to Chinese manufacturers and their non-standard fast charging) this type of socket is still present on many vehicles equipped with CarPlay.
For those who have an iPhone 15 nothing will change: just as a USB-A / Lightning cable is used today, tomorrow a USB-A / USB-C cable will be enough to continue using CarPlay as before.