So most Apple fans have likely seen the latest rumor from Ming-Chi Kuo, who’s really on a roll at the moment. Among other things, he predicts that Apple will not just remove the Lightning Port, the last remaining physical interface left on the device, from the highest end iPhone in 2021. This would make the iPhone a 100% wireless device.
My take on this is very simple. I’ll believe it when I see it. I know Kuo has a pretty good track record and I usually give weight to his predictions. However, I just can’t buy this one yet and I think there are multiple reasons for skepticism.
Mr Ive has left the building
There have been previous rumors that Apple wanted to take the iPhone in this direction. However, that was when design was still headed up by Jony Ive, and let’s be honest. This seems exactly like something he would want to do: create the ultimate metal and glass slab with no openings. I can’t help but wonder if that direction will hold long term now that he has moved on.
Ready or not
I am not saying that a reliable and feature-complete fully wireless interface isn’t possible. I just doubt it will be ready in less than two years. It isn’t just a port-less iPhone we’re talking about Apple delivering. How do you use a phone while wirelessly charging it? Currently, this is incredibly cumbersome at best. The prospects for fully baked over the air wireless charging AT APPLE SCALE in less than two years is quite remote.
Then you have the troubleshooting and diagnostic factors. How do you recover or service a device that you can’t connect to? Apple gets around this on the Apple Watch by hiding the diagnostic port, but that’s much easier to do on that device. It would be far more difficult on a modern smartphone like the iPhone. And if you include a hidden port, then why bother removing the real one? A hidden port would still take up room inside the device and could compromise the potential benefit of complete waterproofing.
You also have other standard features that would be negatively affected, such as CarPlay and full iTunes restores, that will ALWAYS be faster and easier with a direct cable connection. There are still a LOT of reasons for Apple to not go down this road so soon.
Two steps back
Just with these issues alone, I’ve come up with enough to show that Apple is unlikely to be able to bridge all the gaps that will come with the removal of all ports from the iPhone in time to meet this schedule. Now, I know some of you will think back to the removal of the headphone jack, but I still see that a little differently. Because the Lightning Port was still there, we had the option to use wired headphone and peripherals. I know that dependence on a dongle wasn’t perfect, but wired functionality wasn’t completely removed and at least Apple included the dongle and a set of Lightning EarPods in the box in year one.
Another big thing to keep in mind is that Bluetooth, whatever its shortcomings, was a very mature and widely available technology by this point. Apple also released its own AirPods at the same time and followed them with additional products from Beats. So there was no shortage of wireless headphones already available and Apple also helped to push the technology to bridge the small gap that they opened with the removal of the headphone jack. I do not believe that they can do the same for a fully wireless iPhone by the Fall of 2021.
While I do think the rumor that Apple would start with the highest end iPhone makes sense based on the company’s patterns starting with the iPhone X, I also think this would be a very tough sell. Unless they can cover a LOT of ground to plug the multiple gaps that total dependence on wireless would bring, buyers will see this as a handicap, rather than a feature. It would be the ultimate form over function move if attempted too soon, so I just can’t buy into it. Where the iPhone 7 was fine and the iPhone X excelled, an iPhone with no ports released too early would bomb badly.
What about the iPad?
I think removing all physical ports from the iPhone too soon would be a huge mistake. Removing them from the iPad would be an even bigger one. Lest we forget, there are three different iPads that still have Lightning Ports. Would Apple remove them? Would they shift all iPads to USB-C? I would certainly hope for the latter since we just got enhanced external drive support in iPadOS. Last I checked, that required wires.
The thing is, even though Apple only touted this feature on iPads, it is still available in iOS on the iPhone. It certainly is nice to be able to plug in an approved Lightning to SD Card or USB adapter and move files to or from external media. We don’t just need this feature on our iPads. I still want it on my iPhone, as well.
Again, I just can’t get on board with a fully wireless iPhone. At least not yet. I’m sure the technologies will all align at some point, but I’m betting it will be three or four years from now, at least. Until then, why would Apple go backwards and remove a chunk of functionality from what is still their most popular hardware? What does this get them? Such a move won’t be seen as innovative unless they can deliver a COMPLETE experience that is fully wireless.
If Apple can pull this off by the end of 2021, I will eat a hearty helping of humble pie and be one of the first to get such an iPhone. However, as I said at the beginning, I’ll believe it when I see it.