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Why is Apple removing the Lightning port and what could it mean for Android phones?

Is this the next thing manufacturers will do blindly following Apple?
Whether you love or hate Apple, there’s no denying that the company has a tremendous influence over the smartphone market. Prime examples include the removal of the beloved headphone jack and the rise of the notched display, while the hugely popular AirPods have been shamelessly copied by established brands more than once.

A few days ago, a piece of information about Apple’s 2021 iPhones came out describing another trend that Apple might be about to kickstart. The report, coming from a reliable source, said that Apple is planning to remove the Lighting port from its most expensive iPhone model for that year. The cheaper 2021 iPhones will still have one.

But the Lightning port on the top 2021 iPhone will not be replaced by USB Type-C, as many are probably hoping. The plan is to introduce an iPhone delivering a "completely wireless experience," according to the source. Allegedly, that iPhone will have no charging/data port at all.

This isn’t the first time we hear of a portless phone. Chinese manufacturers Meizu and Oppo have toyed with the idea, even showing prototypes of the devices, but none has made it to the market just yet. Apple considering this move, however, is a whole other ball game.

Why would Apple kill the port?

We’re all familiar with Apple’s pursuit of sleek design, but that wouldn’t be the prime reason for the removal of the Lightning port. In its own words, Apple is a company that believes in a wireless future. Dropping the connector could be a part of that transition, meant to bring both the company’s products – and the industry as a whole – into the next decade.

On top of being in line with Apple’s long-term philosophy, a completely wireless iPhone with no connector would be more durable. It should be easier to secure against water damage, while damaged ports and frayed charging cables could become a thing of the past. No less importantly, removing the port would free up valuable space inside the phone for things like a bigger battery, additional cameras, or 5G antennas.

But if users are at the center of everything the company does, then changes must always bring a better user experience. That would mean providing better alternatives to all the functionality that comes with the Lightning port: charging, data transfer, and connectivity with headphones and accessories.

Of course, there are Apple’s AirPods for anyone wanting to listen to their music on the go. Some users will always miss their wired headphones, but if Apple bundles a pair of AirPods with its smartphones (as some rumors suggest) the number of these users will be significantly lower.
Data transfer is mostly taken care of as well. Apple’s synchronization between its devices and the cloud is very convenient and works seamlessly. People that use an iPhone but not a MacBook or an iMac, however, might require some special attention from Apple if the cable is to disappear. A custom solution might already be in the works at Cupertino.

Wireless charging has been around for years but there’s one major problem with its current implementation. While your device is on a wireless charger, it’s pretty much unusable. Sure, you can check notifications or even scroll through feeds but it’s not a good user experience. Now, by 2021, battery life would surely see improvements, and maybe Apple is betting that no matter what you do during the day with your iPhone, an overnight charge would be enough. Or maybe it’s been developing a technology that would allow not only wireless but also contactless charging. However, given the inefficiency of the process, it seems highly unlikely to see a phone that charges from a distance in the next decade.

An invisible port instead of a no-port?

While there might be no port to plug a cable into, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be something else to serve the functions of the Lightning port. Perhaps instead there will be several pins cleverly hidden in the frame of the iPhone and a connector that magnetically attaches to them, much like how the keyboard attaches to the iPad Pro or how the Apple Pencil sticks to the side of the tablet and charges. Wireless USB is also a thing, even though you might have never heard of its existence.

An “invisible” port solution would combine the best of both worlds: the benefits of a portless design and the functionality of a wired connection for those that really need it. For some applications you just can’t go wireless, at least not right now and not as soon as 2021 either.

Apple wouldn’t want to mess with all the professionals that use its products and give the brand its hip and creative vibe. So it has come up with a viable alternative to the Lightning port.

Musicians need that zero-latency input that you can’t get with a wireless connection. Photographers need a place to plug in their SD card readers. External hard drives are ubiquitous due to how large video files have gotten. Power banks are another thing heavy users have in their bags. 

No matter what the specific solution is, one thing is certain, Apple will cause a stir in the smartphone industry.

Another domino effect might be coming...

As soon as the new iPhone with no ports goes on sale, Research and Development teams all over the world will start a thorough examination of it. Inside and out, hardware and software, everything about this new portless experience will be dissected. Soon after, concepts for in-house alternatives will be created.

Several months later, when Apple’s financial results show no significant dip in sales numbers (because let’s be honest, there probably won’t be one), executives of competing brands will start to seriously consider releasing a phone with no ports as well. After all, companies like Samsung and Huawei release dozens of phones each year. Having one of them without ports is not a huge risk.

Here’s the tricky part: removing the port is easy, replacing it is hard. Unlike Apple, which has a comprehensive ecosystem of devices and software, other smartphone manufacturers often have to partner with various companies for their products. The software they get from Google and most of the chips come from Qualcomm.

Excellent coordination between all those entities must be established if Android users are to receive a viable alternative to the USB Type-C port. The process of creating a well-thought-out alternative to Apple’s solution will likely be slow and riddled with hurdles.

As a result, we’ll likely see three camps forming among Android smartphone makers:

Camp 1: Apple did it, we’re doing it!

Undoubtedly, there will be companies that will rush to mimic Apple without proper planning and R&D. Chances are their users will get something half-baked that creates more problems than it solves. Some of the larger manufacturers might dip their toes by releasing a portless phone as part of a less-important line to test users’ reactions.

Camp 2: We’ll do it when we’re ready.

The intelligent way to go about this. Make sure you’re not sacrificing functionality first and then, when you have a technology that’s mature enough, implement it into your products. Sure, it’s still technically following Apple, but at least it’s done the right way (hopefully).

Camp 3: We’re not doing it!

Some companies will straight up ignore what Apple did and keep doing whatever they had planned. Of course, when no-ports eventually becomes the standard, they’ll go for it as well, but at that point, it doesn’t really count as following Apple.

Hopefully, no matter what happens, we won’t have to go through another set of ads from companies mocking Apple for their decision only for those same companies to follow suit a few years later and discretely remove said ads from YouTube (I’m looking at you, Samsung!).

So, do you think we’ll see portless iPhones as soon as 2021 and are you ready for the wireless future? Tell us below!

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