The switch from Apple’s exclusive Lightning port to the USB-C standard was highly anticipated for this year’s iPhone models. There were concerns about needing to replace all accessories, but some, including myself, were excited about the possibility of using one cable for their iPad, MacBook, and iPhone.
After the release of the new models, the USB-C transition has brought about some difficulties. It is not as easy as having one universal port, and in certain situations, moving away from Apple’s controlled ecosystem has caused challenges that users did not encounter in the past. These challenges may be resolved eventually, but it is important to be aware of them before connecting all your USB-C devices without caution.
One common criticism of Apple’s exclusive connectors is that they were primarily designed to generate profit for the company through their MFi (formerly known as Made for iPod) certification program. Although Apple may have earned some money through this program, it is likely insignificant in comparison to the revenue generated from hardware sales.
Additionally, the criticisms of greed disregard the advantages of the program – Apple’s certification process for products with the Lightning connector guarantees their compatibility and functionality with their devices. Throughout my extensive experience with Apple products, I have rarely encountered issues with Lightning-based peripherals or cables. It was generally reliable that when you connected one to your iPhone or iPad, it would charge and transfer data as expected.
Unfortunately, this does not apply to USB-C cables. According to Apple’s MFi FAQ page, there are certain accessories that are not covered by the program, such as “USB-C charging accessories and USB Device Class accessories.” However, since these ports are a standard, it may not be a significant issue.
Most individuals who have used technology (which includes anyone reading this) in the past few decades are familiar with the rectangular USB-A connector. This connector often causes frustration when inserted incorrectly and requires flipping over. However, once connected properly, it typically functions smoothly.
The issue with USB-C cables is quite intricate. Not only do various protocols utilize USB-C connectors (such as USB2, various versions of USB3, and Thunderbolt 3, 4, and 5), but not all cables are identical. Some only supply power without data transfer capabilities. Others have different charging speeds. Additionally, there are variations in data transfer speeds (USB 2 vs. USB 3). This results in a complex situation, as my colleague Glenn Fleishman discussed a few years ago.
In summary, it is not guaranteed that the cable you purchase will perform as expected when connected to your iPhone. It is important to carefully read the details and even then, when buying tech accessories online, there is a possibility of misrepresentation which can cause unexpected issues.
Drive me crazy
Example: CarPlay is an excellent system that allows iPhones to connect to cars. I personally installed a new head unit in my car a few years ago specifically for CarPlay and I have not regretted it.
Unfortunately, my device, similar to many others currently available, utilizes a reliable USB-A connection. This required me to switch out my Lightning cable for one that has USB-A on one end and USB-C on the other. The issue is that not all cables are made equal, as previously stated. There have been several reports of individuals experiencing problems with CarPlay when using dongles or adapters to connect their USB-C iPhones.
Unfortunately, I encountered some difficulties. When using the USB-A to USB-C cable from a reputable brand that I already owned, CarPlay would only work sporadically. It is difficult to determine if the issue is with the cable or the software on my iPhone, but what was once a reliable experience has now become very unreliable. There are times when my phone won’t connect at all, and other times when the car’s unit will show it as locked, even though CarPlay should still function properly on a locked phone.
Apple may feel inclined to give up and claim that USB-C is not their responsibility, but this approach will not satisfy or appease their annoyed and bewildered customers. The company does have a say in the USB-IF, the governing body for the USB standard, but implementing changes for better labeling or standardization through this channel could be a lengthy and bureaucratic process.
The company has a few choices available: they could encourage customers to use Apple or trusted partner cables (such as Belkin and Mophie), which may be more reliable but also more costly. Some have proposed that Apple could offer a technical solution, such as an app or interface, to inform users of a cable’s capabilities when plugged in.
Unfortunately, the decision to make this change has not had the intended effect of simplifying the lives of Apple users. This is especially concerning for a company known for its user-friendly and effortless approach. It can be considered a major setback.