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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: Lightning is All Around Us

USB-C is slowly but surely taking over the world. From the MacBook to the iPad and beyond, the powerful, flexible interface promises data and power, all through a single connector.

In this world, some have hoped that Apple would replace the port Lightning on the iPhone with a USB-C port. Considering that is a huge topic for another time, but thinking about this got me wondering about how many other Apple products use Lightning. What started as the new iPhone connecter has slowly been used in other Apple products. Once I started thinking about how many, I was surprised to see just how far the connector has spread.

The most important non-iPhone product using the Lightning connector is the entire iPad line, minus the 2018 iPad Pros. Apple still sells the iPad mini, the 9.7-inch iPad and the old 10.5-inch iPad Pro, starting at $399, $329 and $649, respectively.

It is easy to look at this and think that Apple is using USB-C to differentiate the iPad Pro, but until iOS does a lot more to utilize it, I think it’s a point of confusion and frustration for some buyers.

To go with that 10.5 iPad Pro, Apple still sells the original Apple Pencil, with is male Lightning plug for (somewhat awkwardly) charging the Pencil with the iPad. Clearly the new Apple Pencil is superior in about every single way.

Lightning is also present on a wide range of less expensive products, including the newly-revived iPhone Smart Battery Cases, which support the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max.

Apple also uses Lightning for charging the AirPod case, which will at some point earn the ability to charge wirelessly if the Ghost of AirPower ever comes around this way again. Even when (if?) that happens, there’s clearly enough room on the case to move to USB-C if (when?) the iPhone does.

Lightning is present in the Mac ecosystem as well, being venue for charging and pairing the Magic Keyboard, Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Trackpad 2. As someone with one of these keyboards and trackpads on my desk, I love how easy it is to charge them when needed, as I have roughly 137 Lightning cables stashed around my office. I don’t know the last time I plugged my iPhone into a Mac, but I keep a Lightning cable tucked behind my iMac Pro to keep my input accessories topped off.

Even the Apple TV is on the fun. At the bottom of the expensive and not-very-good Siri Remote is a Lightning port, again for charging. I’m not sure there is the thickness required for a USB-C port, but as I believe Apple needs to redesign this input device from the ground up, I’m sure they could make it work.

Interestingly, there was a USB-C port on the back of the 4th generation Apple TV, but it was only used for service and support. With the 4K model, Apple ditched it.

Lastly, we have to consider Apple’s audio products. Of course, the wired EarPods that come in the box with every new iPhone use Lightning, but the connector is also present on some of the company’s Beats products, including the BeatsX and Beats Pill+ Portable Speaker, which I had forgotten existed until I was digging around Apple’s website.

The majority of Beats products still use micro USB to change, despite some of them using the W1 chip for wireless pairing and streaming.

Of course, this list ignores the entire universe of third-party products designed to work with the iPhone. If Apple moves the iPhone to USB-C, it will send shockwaves through an entire eco-system, which is now bigger than the one built for the 30-pin Dock Connector ever was.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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