Why Apple Needs to Unify Their Product Line Around USB-C

During one of the last WSJ-D conferences, then Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer was on the stage speaking with D-Conference co-chairs Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher about how he was working to change Sony’s siloed business model. But just as the session was about to start, Martha Stewart came into the room carrying a hand full of cables with different plugs on them and yells out to Sir Howard that he needs to fix the problems of multiple connectors and incompatible cables. The room erupts in laughter at the site of Ms. Stewart waving a handful of cables in front of Mr. Stringer, but they also applaud her for bringing up a huge problem that has faced consumers for decades.

I happened to sit with Martha Stewart at the same table during lunch after that session and asked her about her cable stunt. She corrected me and said it was not a stunt but a serious request. She, like many others were, fed up with our industries lack of concern for real people who have to deal with this problem daily.

I for one am tired of going on the road and having to carry multiple power supplies with various connectors to handle my iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and Android phones. And on some trip’s I also bring a Windows laptop that also uses different chargers or connectors.

There is one universal connector that could finally help unify our hardwired connectivity problems, and that is USB-C. While USB-C, as pointed out in a recent DigtialTrends column, has some difficulties itself with different types of power configurations, the one thing it does have is a single standard connector that works with every USB C compatible device.

The Windows PC world is starting to move in this direction, and most of the newer laptops now use USB-C as their main connectors. In talking with the big three PC makers recently, they all seem to be unifying around the USB-C port although their power supplies and support for external monitors differ in many of their products.

Perhaps the most glaring example of incompatible connection points comes from Apple, who uses Lightning connections on iPhones and iPads, and most recently has migrated their newer Mac Laptops to USB-C too.

The good news is this may soon change. VentureBeat recently reported about rumors they picked up suggesting Apple will soon drop the lightening ports on iPhones and iPads and move both over to USB-C.

Although the all-new MacBooks now use USB-C as the main connector, Apple does have different power supplies for these machines based on power demands and some ports used to power external monitors. However, adding USB-C to iPhones and iPads would unify all of their connection points and use this as a way, I hope, to eventually develop a power supply system that could work with any of their hardware devices.

I realize that USB-C has many different interactions when it comes to its overall uses and various supporting needs based on how it will be used in devices, but moving to USB-C as the primary connector is an excellent first step in unifying our device connections. It could also lead to better development of power supplies that could one day deliver a single power brick that could work with any USB-C connected devices.

I realize that the last suggestion is probably a pipe dream, but as Martha Stewart pointed out, incompatibility of cables and connectors have made user experiences less the optimal in the past. We are getting closer to having the technology that could make it possible someday for a user to only have to carry a single power supply that uses a universal connector such as USB-C to power all of their electronic devices. As I said, this vision is still a pipe dream, but this is what consumers want to simplify their digital lives in the future, and the industry needs to move us in this direction.

One tangent to this that has been rumored is that Apple could drop any connector to at least the iPhone and only use wireless charging for their smartphones. But that would be a mistake. The idea of an I/O is that it allows not only for charging but for moving data in and out of a device, and while loading software over WIFI or cellular works, there are areas with an actually I/O connector is valuable. I often have upload photos from a micros SD card to my iPhone from a non-WiFi camera and have used an external hard drive to back it up locally. There are solid reasons to keep an actual connector on any new iPhone.

But I do see some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to eventually unify our devices around a single I/O connection via USB-C. If that does happen, consumers will have a much better experience with their devices and hopefully have to carry less external power supplies or chords with them, which is what Martha. Stewart was asking the industry to do years ago.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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