Apple poked a hornet’s nest when it removed the standard headphone jack from the iPhone 7. It may do it again by replacing the Lightning port with USB-C in the next iPhone.
The Lightning port, introduced in 2012, is used to charge and connect accessories to the iPhone, but Apple plans to swap it for USB-C, which the company has been introducing into its computer lines, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
“It would be a bold step for Apple, because it would mean Apple would be dependent on the advance of the USB-C standard for any innovations they may want to make around physical connectors,” said IHS Markit Senior Director Ian Fogg.
In the past, Apple chose to use its own home-brewed connectors for the iPhone — first its dock connector, then Lightning.
“Both of them allowed Apple to innovate more quickly than the industry because they weren’t dependent on standards,” Fogg told TechNewsWorld, “and it enabled them to have a business model around accessories through third-party companies, where Apple could ensure quality and collect a license fee.”
USB-C: Good and Bad
It’s not likely that Apple will scrap the Lightning connector, said David McQueen, a research director at ABI Research.
“They’d only put USB-C in if it allows them to make the phone thinner,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“A standard connector would be better, because you could share the cables for it with the new MacBook and with other devices,” noted Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst at Tirias Research.
“That’s a good thing,” he said.
“The bad thing is you have to buy another cable,” Krewell told TechNewsWorld.
Apple will unveil three new iPhones in September, based on reports corroborated by the WSJ. The expected models are an iPhone 7s, a 7s Plus, and a 10th anniversary edition called “iPhone 8” or “X,” which could have a curved 5.8-inch OLED display.
“Switching from a Lightning connector to USB-C is a minor thing. It’s not going to make large numbers of people buy an iPhone,” said IHS Markit’s Fogg.
“On the other hand, innovating with the display, having a wide-aspect ratio display that fills the face of the phone without increasing the volume of the phone, is good for consumers and good for the experience of using the phone,” he observed.
OLED Offers VR Opportunity
Having an OLED in the next iPhone is a definite possibility, Tirias’Krewell said.
“It’s just a matter of getting the right supply chain in place,” he pointed out.
“Apple’s wanted to switch to OLED, but getting the supply chain behind it to support their quality and standards and display resolution has been a challenge,” added Krewell.
OLED screens not only offer a more vibrant display with richer colors and deeper blacks, but also have lower persistence than other types of displays, which reduces motion blur.
“That makes OLEDs much more suited for things like virtual reality, ” IHS Markit’s Fogg said.
“Apple has resisted the temptation so far to make any play in that area,” he continued, “but a shift to an OLED, which we are expecting, would be an enabler for them to make a move to a VR experience if they want to.”
A large, end-to-end display also could make the iPhone more competitive in the market, maintained Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.
“It would be exceptional and could bring them at parity with Samsung,” he told TechNewsWorld.
A $1,000 iPhone?
One of the new iPhone models reportedly will have a stainless steel casing with a glass back. Apple tried glass backs on its iPhone 4 models, but durability was an issue. Now, with improved materials, the company may be ready to try the design again.
“Phone makers are moving away from having a metal, unibody design to having a glass back,” noted IHS Markit’s Fogg. “Because of the robustness of glass now, it’s much tougher than when Apple offered it with the iPhone 4 and 4s.”
Glass backs enable more varied industrial designs with attractive finishes, easier integration of more antennas needed to support faster wireless speeds, and easier wireless charging, he explained.
Wireless charging also has appeared in reports about the next iPhone. The question is whether it will be wireless charging through the air or by placing the phone on a charging pad.
Another rumored possibility is the inclusion of 3D sensors that enable the phone to recognize gestures.
All this new tech would come at a hefty price — perhaps $1,000 or more.
“Pushing the price over $1,000 would be a deal breaker for a lot of people,” Tirias’ Krewell said.
On the other hand, “Apple has shown they can be successful at prices some considered outrageous,” Moorhead remarked. “If they can bring their best, I believe many would buy at that price.”