This discussion expresses the views of the author. Debate entries can be sent to [email protected]
In 2012 the iPhone used its old wide plug that it inherited from the first Ipods. There was no USB-C, only Micro-USB as standard for smartphones. None of the solutions was particularly satisfactory.
economic breakthrough success
So, in September 2012, Apple launched its Lightning plug. It was small, elegant and could be plugged in both ways with a reassuring click. This was a small technological leap in the big picture, but it was very important to the customer experience. For Apple, it wasn’t the least of a crushing economic hit.
Since Apple owns the Lightning standard, it controls usage. They can set quality requirements and claim compensation from those who use them. The reward is about four US dollars for each product sold, which is about 34 NOK at today’s exchange rate. When this is multiplied by the amount of Apple accessories sold, the plug is a multibillion dollar industry.
This income is now threatened on two fronts, with demands from customers and demands from the authorities.
With USB-C becoming increasingly popular as a standard, customers are increasingly preferring this. Global standards also give hope that fewer chargers will be needed, and therefore smaller environmental impacts.
This is also the background to the European Commission’s planned requirements for USB-C as a global standard for all electronic products.
So what is Apple doing now?
The charging cables that come with phones are already USB-C compatible. One possible outcome is that Apple will eventually give up and introduce USB-C on all products, but maybe not before it has to.
In the meantime, they hope to have laid a new golden egg.
Qi wireless charging is becoming more and more popular, but the solution has some challenges. Qi has a low charging capacity, is sensitive to how the phone is positioned against the charger, and allows you to charge to an extent through covers and the like. With the iPhone 12, Apple has revived the Magsafe brand for its improved wireless charging solution. Thanks to the magnets that control the location, it provides fast charging, and also through the lid and wallet if you want it. The solution isn’t revolutionary, but it’s just as easy to secure the exclusive right to a solution that fits Apple products with the patents and other rights you own.
Magsafe is a beautiful charging solution in its own right, but the real value lies in the future. If Apple switched to pure Magsafe charging, the phone would not need a plug at all. This removes the last hole on the phone, allowing Apple to offer a product that is more water and dust resistant.
More so, for Apple itself, this could potentially circumvent EU requirements for USB-C, while creating a new multibillion-dollar industry for Magsafe accessories.
The value of this must of course be weighed against the cost of not giving customers the USB-C plug they want here and now. Apple is looking at everything, so Lightning and Magsafe will remain for this iPhone generation as well.
This use of rights may seem cynical and hostile to users, but proprietary solutions foster improvements.
Apple can’t enforce a pure Magsafe solution unless it gives customers a feature they are willing to pay for. By ensuring exclusive rights, they reap the benefits, but just as important, they ensure that compatible equipment is working properly.
The point is the same whether you’re developing new smartphones, ski bindings, a jigsaw, or something else. By combining better new solutions, with smart strategic rights, both the company and the customers guarantee the best outcome.
“Web specialist. Lifelong zombie maven. Coffee ninja. Hipster-friendly analyst.”