The Case For (And Against) Apple’s Proprietary Obsession

While the rest of the tech world is adapting to the trends and embracing the set standards, Apple comes in, deviates from the norm, and just has to annoy people with its use of proprietary ports.

This is evident in Apple’s push for the Lightning connector, which has been around since the iPhone 5. Apple changed the iPhone charger and of course, this left owners of the previous models distraught and up in arms – this rendered their 3rd-party charging docks and iPhone 4s and earlier chargers useless.

Regardless, it’s all in the past and consumers have successfully adapted into the Lightning port and connector. And yes, it’s on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

Unfortunately, with Apple preferring to use Lightning, it is not embracing the current universal charging standard for smart phones, which is USB-C. This connection port is quickly becoming a mainstay not only for non-Apple smartphones, but also to tablet computers and laptops – including the MacBook. Microsoft’s newest line of smartphones has it, while Google and newest kid on the block, OnePlus, has come on board and are utilizing it.

Lightning is here to stay – for now

Apple is adamantly sticking with Lightning, considering that its newest iMac standalone accessories, the Magic Keyboard 2, Magic Trackpad 2, and Magic Mouse 2, come equipped with it. The yet to be released iPad Pro is equipped with it, along with its principal accessory, the Apple Pencil.

Details are fuzzy, but there is little indication that it will change any time soon. However, the company could be forced to comply in 2017, thanks to a European Union law which requires all manufacturers to use micro-USB chargers on their devices by 2017 and onward.

Chances are, Apple will comply with the law, considering that it’s a signatory to EU to the common charging standard set by EU. We might see the iPhone 8 or 7s come equipped with the USB-C instead of Lightning.

Apple’s history of being different…

Throughout the years, Apple was never shy about being different: they presented unique products that only they supported and stuck with them.

For example, Apple introduced the FireWire and the Thunderbolt. The former was used extensively in the original iPod and was then replaced by the Thunderbolt. Both connections featured interfaces which had quicker data transfer speeds compared to normal USB connections. Despite being fast though, these weren’t used anywhere else besides an Apple product.

…which shows us some examples where that need to be different made things better for the rest of us

Look at the Macintosh computers as well – the best examples are the 1984 Mac and the 1998 iMac. Both devices did away with the bulky setup: the CPUs of both models weren’t separate units. This eliminated the need for users to assemble their computers’ components manually, which was a common occurrence back in the day.

Another good example is when Apple pioneered the use of 3.5-inch floppy disks decades ago wherein the rest of the computer world were fumbling around with the 5.25-inch ones. The rest of the world soon started using the 3.5-inch varieties, following Apple’s suit.

So yes, this gives consumers a major headache: transitioning to an Apple product is difficult, because first, your current hardware inventory may not be compatible with it, and 2nd, Apple’s products aren’t really designed for mainstream use. For example, not everybody is well-oriented with the Apple keyboard, although it’s compatible with Windows platforms.

Should Apple switch to USB-C?

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Given the mass adoption of one port over another, I think Apple should think about it – with our proclivity for mass consumption of well, everything, there is just little tolerance for inconvenience.

Though Apple likes to think differently, it may be time to start embracing the universal standard for some things – change shouldn’t be so inconvenient that it punishes someone for, say, using an Android phone while owning a MacBook Pro. Devices using the Lightning connector are a rare find and since the inception of the USB-C, there has been a deluge of products supporting it.

Take note that the USB-C is not just for charging purposes: it’s also for data transfers and display outputs (like plugging a phone into a digital television). And yes, it’s pretty good: it’s fast, smaller, and relatively easier to manufacture compared to the fatter Thunderbolt connector. Plus, it’s also reversible, meaning consumers will no longer experience the perennial problem of plugging USB connectors wrong in their first tries.

And hey, the new MacBook – released last March – actually comes with the USB-C, which could mean that it’s no longer far off Apple’s radar. It’s the only connection port on the said laptop (except for the headphone jack), taking care of charging and data transfers. However, since accessories are still supporting the Lightning port, we might not see more MacBooks like this in the near future

Take note that the company also introduced Thunderbolt 2 this year – the new MacBook Air and Pro come with it. It looks like the thunder is still rolling, although it will need to brew up a storm to remain relevant in the face of the USB-C. Take note that the Thunderbolt is not versatile, as it can never be used to charge or connect with your phone.

In defense of Apple

Apple ditched the 30-pin connector in favor of Lightning, with the goal of making the iPhone, iPad, and iPod thinner and less bulky. If you noticed, the newer devices are relatively thinner compared to their predecessors, making them less heavier and more convenient to carry around. This commitment to creating thinner devices forced Apple to change the chargers.

It is also worth noting that the USB-C is fairly larger than Lightning, which may be why Apple hasn’t adopted it into their devices it. Also note that Apple is receiving a fair share of revenue from the Lightning cables, so it’s unlikely to see them being phased out in the long run. As a regular consumer, you will have to deal with frequently swapping cables, especially if you have own an array of devices – like having a Windows PC, an iPad, and an Android phone all at the same time.

You can dream, but be sure to keep your hopes of having a single, universal charger in check. Apple can still support USB-C while shipping out Lightning port devices – just add a connector and problem solved.

If you think about it, it’s not all bad

Apple sells iPhone by the millions – the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus collectively sold over 13 million units in its opening weekend alone, trumping their predecessors by at least three million. Though there are a ton of USB-C devices, there is no shortage of iPhone and Lightning connector-supported accessories.

It’s easy to find Lightning power banks, docks, and 3rd-party cables and chargers. Also take note that wireless technology is getting a boost as well: connecting devices via Bluetooth is smoother and faster than before, while you can connect to an device over a WiFi connection while using an installed app.

Sure, there are users inconvenienced by the the Apple-only standard, but such occurrences are rare. Plus, bear in mind that the Lightning connectors are pretty good – they charge quickly and transfer data with speeds comparable to USB-C.

Is Apple’s stance in using propriety ports and products justified?

Historically, Apple is never gun-shy in using products which are exclusive to its line and are not mainstream. Is their stance justified?

Apple is known to create and reinvent – and revolutionize – products. The company did not invent the mp3 player and smartphone, but it created better versions of both products in the form of the iPod and iPhone. Contrary to popular belief, Apple did not exactly create the first tablet computer. Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Tablet PC in 2002, but it never took off. Meanwhile, the iPad gained a ton of media mileage and raving reviews. It was simply ahead of its time and it appealed to curious users. It is worth noting that Apple was also basking in the success of the iPhone at that time, which was likely one of the reasons why the iPad boomed.

When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPod more than a decade ago, it used FireWire to transfer and submit files. At that time, it was faster compared to the existing USB models. Note that the data transfer speeds at that time weren’t the fastest. Considering that the iPod dealt with large file sizes, a faster transfer medium was needed – and FireWire provided just that. It made the iPod usable and waiting times slower.

Even if Apple deviates from the universal standards, it does not fail to deliver quality in its products. The Lightning port may not be found in other devices, but you have to admit that it’s as good – or even better – than USB-C.

Final word

We can safely say that Apple is taking needed steps to ensure that it can meet the industry standard in 2017. That year is closely looming, so we’ll see if that really happens.

There may be fewer reasons to stick it out with the Lightning ports and accessories, but regardless, Apple’s products are still one of the best in the market despite using its own propriety ports and accessories. After all, if universal standards are high, Apple’s will always higher – the company has an amazing, user-centric culture and commits to creating the best products it can for its consumers.

With these developments though, we’re sure that one party will emerge victorious: the buyers. And me.

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