在Lightning问世的2012年，这款能够实现正反盲插的接口还算是较为领先，但它的问题在于升级潜力非常有限。相比之下，两年后推出的USB Type-C在历经USB 3.1-USB 4.0标准多代升级后，目前已经支持40GBbps的传输速率，在USB PD 3.1快充协议生效后，其最高充电功率也从早先的100W升级至240W。
“我们为iPad Air带来了一个众所期待的功能‘USB Type-C’,它可以将数据传输速度提高到每秒5千兆位，比上一代Air的传输速度快了十倍。”这是苹果在iPad Air4发布会上对Type-C接口的讲解词。
Mfi（Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad）是苹果针对第三方配件厂商的授权项目，这个项目早在iPhone 5时代就已经开始实施，在Lightning数据线上内置一块芯片起到识别作用，如果使用没有通过Mfi认证的第三方数据线，那么手机在连接后就先弹出警告提示，表明该配件不兼容本机。
比如在iPhone 12发布时，苹果一改USB A—Lighting接口，转用USB C—Lighting接口，国内的安克创新看准时机，成为全球首家获得这款数据线Mfi认证的厂商，又凭借相对低廉的售价，安克创新后续在北美地区的iPhone数据线/充电头销量仅次于苹果。
举个例子，在iPhone 12 Pro这一代机型上，iPhone就已经支持4K ProRes无损视频录制了，但在该格式下，一部十分钟的短视频就会产生数GB的容量，以Lighting接口的传输速度，根本无法满足短时间内大容量文件的传输需求。
The European Commission said, “this is an attempt to reduce e-waste and facilitate consumers.” According to their calculations, the move will save consumers in Europe more than 250 million euros a year and 11000 tons of e-waste each year.
The regulation is irrelevant to Android manufacturers who have already achieved the popularity of Type-C, but Apple will have to eliminate the Lightning interface that has been in use for the past decade in Europe.
Apple has repeatedly protested the implementation of the regulation. “We remain concerned that allowing only one type of charger will stifle innovation rather than encourage it, which in turn will hurt consumers in Europe and around the world.”
There is a very strange logic: when the iPhone 12 series canceled the charging head, Apple explained that it was good for the environment, but when the European Union proposed to unify the charging port for environmental protection, Apple thought it hindered innovation.
Even if the problem is explained according to Apple’s logic, there has been no innovation in its own Lightning interface over the past decade. In the final analysis, when it comes to charging ports, Apple may be thinking about environmental protection and business.
The business behind Lighting
Which is better or worse in terms of performance between USB Type-C and Lighting is almost an uncontroversial topic.
In 2012, when Lightning was launched, this interface, which can be plugged blindly in front and back, was still in the lead, but its problem was that the upgrade potential was very limited. In contrast, USB Type-C, launched two years later, now supports the transmission rate of 40GBbps after a multi-generation upgrade of the USB 3.1-USB 4.0standard, and its maximum charging power has been upgraded from 100W to 240W after the USB PD 3.1fast charging agreement came into effect.
Doesn’t Apple understand the technological advantages of USB Type-C? They know all too well.
“We have brought a much-anticipated feature to iPad Air, ‘USB Type-C’, which can increase data transmission speed to 5 gigabits per second, ten times faster than the previous generation of Air.”This is Apple’s explanation of the Type-C interface at the iPad Air4 launch.
But for Apple, knowing the gap doesn’t mean it has to be improved, because the Lighting interface is associated with Apple’s multibillion-dollar Mfi project.
Mfi (Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad) is Apple’s authorized project for third-party accessory manufacturers. This project has been implemented as early as the iPhone 5 era. A chip is built into the Lightning data line to identify. If you use a third-party data cable that is not certified by Mfi, then the phone will pop up a warning after connecting, indicating that the accessory is not compatible with the local machine.
Through this project, Apple has almost achieved an “indiscriminate harvest” of third-party accessory factories.
Unlike the “Apple tax” that APP store directly levies on developers, Apple charges more “cost fees” from manufacturers applying for Mfi certification. For example, according to the Daily Business News, Apple charges applicants a certification fee of more than $2000, which is non-refundable if the certification is not passed and the manufacturer has to apply for certification again.
Of course, compared with the previous one-time fees, the real cost is the Lightning chip, Apple stipulates that this chip must be purchased from the designated IT component dealer Amfuri, the purchase price of each chip is 2.10 US dollars, which has exceeded the wire cost of the data line itself, plus customs duties, labor and other additional costs, the cost of each authorized Lighting data line is 20 yuan higher than the ordinary data line.
It is worth mentioning that after Apple switched to the C52 chip, the cost of accessories decreased slightly, with the initial generation of C10 chips costing as much as $2.98 per chip.
Since Apple has never announced the revenue of the Mfi project, and the third-party supporting manufacturers are mixed, it is difficult to directly estimate how much profit Mfi has contributed to Apple, but judging from the growth rate of domestic third-party manufacturers in the global market in the past two years, the scale of this market is not to be underestimated.
For example, when iPhone 12 was released, Apple changed the USB A-Lighting interface to the USB C-Lighting interface, and the domestic Anke innovation saw the right time to become the first manufacturer in the world to obtain the Mfi certification of this data line, and with the relatively low price, the iPhone data line / charge head sales of Anke Innovation in North America were second only to Apple.
According to Anke Innovation Financial report, the company generated 6.341 billion yuan in revenue in North America in 2021, and its charging business accounted for 44% of the revenue, most of which are related products licensed by Apple’s Mfi. Apple’s ability to make money on this project is evident.
To be clear, Apple’s Mfi certification is by no means limited to Lightning data lines. Apple lists a list of Mfi project support on its website, including in-car playback, audio accessories, Magsafe charger modules, lightning analog headset modules, and so on.
Some people might say that Apple, as a company with annual revenue of more than $300 billion, will not worry too much about this multibillion-dollar market.
But even if Apple disdains this part of the revenue, it will certainly care about the control of the ecological chain. Different from the open source ecology of USB Type-C, Apple has always adhered to the concept of closed ecology from the 30-pin Dock interface of the original iPhone to the Lightning interface. If you join the Type-C agreement, this means that any mobile phone manufacturer or third-party manufacturer can access Apple’s port, which may not be tolerated by Apple.
But the question is, even if the European Union does not introduce a bill to regulate the charging interface, will Apple’s Lighting interface rest easy?
Does Apple make non-hole phones in the post-Lightning era?
In addition to affecting the revenue of the Mfi project, the charging interface standard forced by the European Union may also cause a series of related effects.
The key question is, will Apple continue to use the Lightning interface in other regions? At present, it seems that there are risks in doing so.
First of all, the dimensions of the Lighting interface and the Type-C interface are not the same, and if Apple uses the two interfaces, it means that each item released in the future will have to design two different sets of molds, which is unlikely for Apple, which has always emphasized quality control.
Second, even in other countries and regions, the call for a unified charging interface is also loud.
At the beginning of this year, NetEase CEO Ding Lei submitted a proposal for a “unified charging interface” at the CPPCC National Committee, and received a reply from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology: “vigorously promoting the integration of charging interfaces and technologies will help reduce e-waste and improve the efficiency of resource utilization. In the next step, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology will continue to promote the formulation of national standards, promote the integration and unification of charging interfaces and technologies, and strive to promote the high-quality development of the consumer electronics industry.”
Prior to this, a number of domestic mobile phone manufacturers have begun to discuss the general fast charging agreement to solve the problem of incompatibility among various manufacturers in the market. Many manufacturers, including Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO, vivo and so on, have also set up the Guangdong Quick charging Industry Association. It can be predicted that the integration of domestic charging interfaces and charging protocols in the future is bound to be the trend of the times.
The premise to adapt to this trend is that mobile phone manufacturers must at least support the Type-C standard commonly used in the industry.
Even without considering the changes in policy and market wind, Lighting alone can not meet the needs of current smartphone development, or even the needs of its own iPhone.
For example, on the iPhone 12 Pro model, iPhone already supports 4K ProRes lossless video recording, but in this format, a 10-minute short video will generate several GB capacity. With the transmission speed of the Lighting interface, it is simply unable to meet the needs of large-capacity file transfer in a short period of time.
The reason for this problem is that there is basically no redundant space to expand in the design of Apple’s Lightning interface.
The following figure shows a comparison between the lighting interface and the Type-C interface:
By comparison, it can be seen that only one 8-pin interface of Lightning is used for current transmission, and the maximum current will not exceed 3.3A and the four data transmission lines can only achieve the transmission speed of 480Mbps. These design defects can not be solved by later optimization.
Apple is aware of the problem, of course, but the company is not yet fully committed to USB-IF–, a third-party agreement shared by more than 2000 companies.
Therefore, Apple hopes to maintain its control of closed-source ecology by bypassing the Type-C protocol commonly used in the industry while eliminating the Lightning interface. At present, it seems that Apple is likely to achieve this path by creating a “hole-less phone”, that is, directly removing the charging Jack to make the phone porous.
This is not a fantasy guess. Apple was the first manufacturer to cancel the 3.5mm headphone hole and the first to join the eSIM. If the former is a choice made to launch the AirPods, then the first to join the eSIM may only be explained by canceling the SIM slot.
For Apple, the benefits are obvious. The “porous version of iPhone” will make all kinds of MagSafe wireless charging accessories a rigid demand, so Apple can sell accessories more openly on the topic of environmental protection.
However, in view of the relatively weak transmission power of Magsafe products and privacy and security concerns among users, there will be a big question mark over whether consumers can accept Apple’s “hole-less phone”.