Report: Apple is testing USB-C iPhone models for 2023

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Enlarge / The 2021 iPhone 13 still uses Apple’s proprietary Lightning port.

Apple is testing iPhones that use the industry-standard USB-C port, according to a report in Bloomberg citing people with knowledge of the situation.

Since 2012, Apple smartphones use the company’s proprietary Lightning connector. But more recently, the slightly larger USB-C port has come to dominate consumer electronics, including most other Apple products. Apple has been called on by consumers, reviewers, and even government regulators to ditch Lightning in favor of USB-C in recent years.

This has landed Apple in a tough spot, with three possible paths to take, each with some significant downsides.

For one thing, the company could stick with Lightning, which would mean customers who’ve been using the iPhone for a while wouldn’t have to buy new adapters, cables or chargers. Apple’s ecosystem of accessory manufacturers wouldn’t have to go back to the drawing board to release updated products for the new connection.

On the other hand, Apple could switch to USB-C, making the iPhone work better with other devices, including the Mac. But such a move could lead to confusion among consumers and chaos among accessory makers. It would also loosen Apple’s grip on the user experience.

The third option would be to go completely wireless, but wireless connections typically don’t transmit power or data as quickly or efficiently.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, Apple is actively testing the second option, switching to USB-C, in large part because the European Union appears to be moving forward with a law that would require companies that make “mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld game consoles, and portable speakers” to standardize around USB-C.

The new law isn’t final yet, but its prospects are good so far, and it would force Apple’s hand here. Sources aren’t sure if Apple will go ahead with its plan to switch to USB-C should the law ultimately fail.

That said, the USB-C models Apple is testing right now aren’t targeting a 2022 release; reportedly, this year’s iPhones will still use Lightning. But the change could happen as soon as 2023, according to the report.

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