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On the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus, Apple finally got rid of the Lightning port and replaced it with USB-C. This opens up a whole new world of convenience of connecting accessories and peripherals. The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max go one step further, as the USB-C port on the pro models supports USB-3 speeds, enabling up to 10 Gbps data transfer speeds.
USB-C makes it easy to connect displays, external storage, cameras, and charge using the same cable as all your other devices. Here’s what you can do with your new iPhone and its shiny new port …
Why did Apple change from Lightning?
Apple was fully invested in Lightning port ecosystem on the iPhone. However, it began adopting USB-C across Mac and iPad models since 2015 as a way to modernize PC connectivity. USB-C is versatile, carrying power and data with the same connector. And USB-4 / Thunderbolt offers even higher data transfer speeds.
At the same time, USB-C was becoming increasingly popular on the Android side of the smartphone market. But Apple stuck with Lightning on iPhone, partly because they were still stung from the backlash of 30-pin -> Lightning transition that happened more than a decade ago.
The forcing factor for Apple was the EU commission, who have passed legislation to reduce e-waste by enforcing USB-C as the universal connector for phones. That would mean Apple would at least have to make a special model of iPhone for the European market. That brings its own complications. Instead, Apple chose to just adopt USB-C across the board … and apart from the frustration of customers having to change out all their existing now-defunct Lightning cables, that brings a lot of benefits …
Universal USB-C Charging
Now that you have an iPhone 15, you are probably close to being able to use the same single cable to charge all of your devices. Almost all iPads have a USB-C port, and all Macs have been sporting USB-C for a decade. The newest Macs come with Apple’s MagSafe charger, but they can also be charged by plugging in to one of their USB-C ports too. The latest-generation Apple TV comes with a USB-C remote, and Apple just released a new AirPods Pro with a USB-C charging case. You can also now buy just the USB-C case separately from the Apple Store.
Apple sells its own USB-C charge cables, and the iPhone comes with a nice quality woven cable in the box itself. Unlike Lightning, USB-C is not proprietary. To charge your Apple gear, you can use any USB-C charging cable or accessory on the market. That includes cheaper USB-C cables, and USB-C cables of different styles and lengths. Anker has a very convenient dual 47 watt USB-C power adapter, for example.
To charge your iPhone at full speed, you want to use a 20-watt or 30-watt power adapter. You can safely use a higher wattage power adapter like the one that comes with your MacBook; the phone will automatically manage the power. Learn more about fast-charging iPhone 15 here.
Charge other devices with your iPhone 15 battery
Another cool angle of the USB-C charging story is that you can now use the iPhone to charge other accessories. The iPhone 15 can accept up to 27 watts through the USB-C port, but itself can also output about 4.5 watts. (Lightning could only manage a measly 0.3watts.)
This means you can actually use your spare iPhone battery to power and charge connected accessories. If your AirPods are running low, in a pinch, you can plug them into your phone and your phone will top up the juice in your AirPods case. You could even top up the battery of another person’s iPhone — but just be aware it will take a while.
Easily connect to external displays
With Lightning, you could only connect to external displays via a clunky dongle. With USB-C on iPhone 15, you can output to a screen directly. Use a USB-C to HDMI cable and show your iPhone screen on a 4K TV or monitor, with screen mirroring. If you are watching a movie in a video streaming service app, the film will automatically fill the TV dimensions with playback controls on the touch screen. Easily show off your photo library or conduct a presentation with Keynote by just plugging your phone directly into a projector.
One of the use cases Apple is pushing is positioning iPhone as a portable games console. Using the power of the A17 Pro chip inside, iPhone 15 Pro can run some top-end games with high graphical fidelity. Pair an Xbox or PlayStation game controller, connect your phone to a TV, and start gaming. The Apple USB-C Digital AV adapter is a good choice for this use case, as it allows for HDMI, power output for continuous charging and passthrough USB-C in one convenient dongle.
Expand your local storage with portable USB-C hard drives and SD cards
Connect a USB-C hard drive or SD card reader and browse files directly using the Files app on iPhone. If you go on holiday and take a dedicated camera with you, you can import photos directly from the SD card into your iPhone’s photo library. Then, empty the SD card and keep shooting while you edit and upload the pictures you’ve taken on your phone’s big touchscreen.
The iPhone 15 Pro Camera app allows you to record ProRes 4K at 60 FPS video directly to USB-3 storage. ProRes is uncompressed and the file sizes are huge, consuming gigabytes per minute of recording. But pairing your iPhone with a 1 TB portable SSD, you can record for a while before running out of space. This requires a USB-3 cable (not simply charge cable) to take advantage of the fast 10Gbps transfer speeds possible through the iPhone 15 Pro’s port.
Connect hardware keyboards and wired internet
Sometimes, wireless doesn’t cut it — and you just need to plug in. USB-C on iPhone supports almost any basic accessory you can think of, without the need for special drivers or additional configuration. It’s all plug and play. That means you can connect a hardware keyboard will just work.
Or if you are podcasting on the road, you can record using a mini USB-C microphone. Another possibility is wired internet, using a USB-C to Ethernet adapter. And if you have a MIDI keyboard, you can make a song on the go with an app like GarageBand.
Wired headphones that work with your phone and computer
Since Apple dropped the headphone jack, much of the world has moved on to using Bluetooth wireless headphones like AirPods. But if you still prefer to plug in with a wire, using wired headphones with iPhone has been an inconvenient affair. Lightning earbuds worked with your phone, but nothing else.
Now, it’s all much simpler. iPhone 15 works with any USB-C headphones, including Apple’s new USB-C EarPods. These headphones will work with any computer with a USB-C port, so you can finally use the same wired headphones across your phone, iPad and Mac. An increasing number of high-end headphones and speakers also rely on USB-C connectivity these days.
Connect multi-port hubs
USB-C is very flexible and allows for data and power to travel over the same port. This means you can carry a single dongle, which is a multi-port hub comprising all sorts of IO. These are super convenient as iPad and Mac accessories, and now work with the iPhone too.
For example, this $25 Anker 5-in-1 hub will work with the USB-3 USB-C port on iPhone 15 Pro and enable you to connect to external displays, connect to power, plug in USB accessories and an external display all at the same time.
The only thing you have to keep in mind is that the iPhone can output power to the hub at 4.5 watts. iPad and Mac can offer much higher bus-powered wattage, so if you are using them with the iPhone, you may need to also plug in an external power source.
Some of these capabilities were previously possible with Lightning but necessitated large, clunky, and special purpose adapters for each use case. USB-C is standards-based which means anything you buy will also work with other devices too. You don’t need to carry a special Lightning SD card reader anymore; the same USB-C peripheral will work just as well with your iPhone, iPad, Mac and any Windows PC or Android devices in the family as well. The universal connector life is finally here.
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