Apple’s Lightning connector is a key feature of the technology brand’s differentiation between it and consumer rivals. But what are the differences, and how can brands, vendors and retailers take advantage of them?
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Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector and its range of charging leads are the company’s in-the-box or after-market solution for directly charging and transferring data between its iPhone, iPad, iPod devices, and Mac or other computers. The Lighting connector replaced Apple’s original 30-pin proprietary connector with the launch of the iPhone 5, it has been the company’s standard since, with some rare exceptions.
Lightning was one of the first connectors that plugs in any way round, reducing users’ stress when consumers kept trying to plug their USB leads in the wrong way round. Most early Lighting leads had a USB 2.0 connector at the other end to connect to any power adapter or computer. Lightning leads supplied with the iPhone XR, 12, and 13 and later devices use USB-C connectors, while Apple stopped providing a power adapter and headphones with iPhones to reduce waste.
Other Apple accessories that make use of Lightning connectors include the Beats range of headphones, Apple’s Magic Mouse and Keyboard, Apple TV’s Siri Remote, and the company’s AirPods. While many consumers have moved onto wireless charging for smartphone devices, Lightning leads still play a key role in the home, mobile, office, and in-car connections and charging.
Note that the original model Lighting connectors are based on the legacy USB 2.0 technology and transfer data at up to 480Mbps (megabits per second) compared to the 5Gbps speed of USB 3.0 devices, with slow charging speeds compared to Android devices using USB-C. Slow charging remains a weak point for USB-A Lightning leads.
Newer model USB-C to Lightning leads charge within 30 minutes. However, speeds vary depending on the lead and connector, with fast charging onads are available from Apple and third parties. These can charge an iPhone device to 50%ly working when connected to an Apple USB-C to Lightning cable using an 18 or higher watt power source.
What is Apple Lightning Connector Used For?
The lightning connector is a multi-function piece of technology with several uses.
For a start, it is the primary method of charging iOS devices, either using mains power through a wall adapter, a laptop via the USB port or from a third-party power bank when users are on the go.
Lightning connectors can also transfer data. While most people use social media or storage apps to move small files, a wired Lightning connection is the best way to transfer large amounts of photos, music or HD/4K video content either to or from the iOS device.
The lightning connector also has a range of other uses, primarily replacing the headphone jack that Apple has removed from most devices. You can either connect headphones directly with a lightning connector, or use a Lightning-to-audio jack lead to plug in older headphones.
There are also Lightning-to-HDMI leads to provide a strong video connection to large screens that is more reliable than a WiFi connection. This can be to show movies or stream TV, or to do some work on a HD monitor. For those with older PC monitors, there are also Lightning-to-VGA to connect to those screens.
Compatible Mobile Devices
With billions of iPhone and millions of iPad devices on the market, there is a huge market for compatible mobile devices and accessories that also need to make use of the Lightning lead for a strong user experience.
Compatible devices include; the iPhone 5 up to the latest iPhone 13, the iPad 4 and and latest (including Air, Mini, and Pros, except for the USB-C powered iPad Pro 11-inch 1st generation or later, iPad Pro 12.9-inch 3rd generation or later, iPad Air 4th generation or later and the sixth-generation mini.
There are also a large number of accessories that make use of the Lightning connector, including Apple’s own Pencil for the iPad, and the Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard devices for those who use their iOS devices for work purposes.
For entertainment, there are a range of peripherals and accessories including Apple’s popular Beats headphones and devices such as SteelSeries Nimbus gaming controllers. Several powerbank models also can use Lightning connectors to charge or provide power,
What is an MFi Lightning Cable?
Apple is not the only provider of Lightning cables. It licenses some third-party companies to produce them under the Apple Made for iDevice (MFi) certified program, enabling lower-cost or feature-added charging and syncing cables for Apple devices.
The certification ensures that the lead is quality tested and ensures safe charging at the fastest possible speed and sync compatibility with current Apple devices.
Lightning Connector’s Future
Apple faces increasing legislative pressure, notably from the European Union, to replace the Lightning connector and switch to USB-C cabling to help reduce technology waste and improve compatibility among devices. The move to wireless charging may mitigate this.
Even so, Apple has produced a range of iPads with USB-C connections including the recent iPad Pro, iPad Air, and now the iPad mini models. However, it stated that the company has no intention of changing iPhone connectors.
Consumers still need a steady stream of Lightning leads and accessories to support the iPhone and iPad user base, regardless of market changes.