Lightning and USB Type-C Connectors

Yesterday on his Talk Show podcast, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber suggested that his Apple sources told him that Apple invented USB Type-C. Known for often insightful but always ‘not negative‘ Apple commentary, Gruber sometimes peppers his stories with info he’s gained from inside Apple which he calls “little birdies” (that admittedly haven’t been 100% recently, but used to be spot on).

The quote, taken from TheTechBlock about 54 minutes in:

I have heard, can’t say who, but let’s call them “informed little birdies”, that USB-C is an Apple invention and that they gave it to the standard bodies. And that the politics of such is that they can’t really say that. They’re not going to come out in public and say it, but they did. It is an Apple invention and they do want it to become a standard.

That’s a bit weird, because if Apple did invent USB Type-C, it would seem like a no-brainer for replacing Lightning. But Gruber noted in a post earlier this week that he didn’t think Apple would replace Lightning with USB Type-C.

I think the answer is probably “No, Apple is not going to switch the iPhone and iPad to USB-C”. I think Lightning is a more elegant design, including being slightly thinner. And I think Apple likes having a proprietary port on iOS devices.

But, if they did move iOS devices to USB-C, then you could charge your iOS devices and MacBook with the same cable. And within a few years, all phones and tablets from all companies would charge using the same standard.

A few minutes of research into the matter yields a wealth of data about the genesis of USB Type-C and while Apple does play an active role, it appears they had a lot of help – to put it charitably…

On the initial USB Type-C press release from 2013, Intel, Texas Instruments and the USB Working Group are on the release without any sign of Apple. As inventors of the standard, Apple could have easily been mentioned here unless they were adamant about keeping their role silent.

It appears that USB Type-C was initially submitted in 2012, the same year Apple announced Lightning. If it was Apple that invented this, it would have gone through a lot of testing and iterations by the many companies listed on the PDF by the time it was made a standard last year. And when Apple invents something, they aren’t shy about sharing that fact with the world, especially if it will help their customers adopt the technology — see Firewire, Thunderbolt (aka LightPeak), etc.


Nokia’s 2014 N1 has a USB Type C interface that looks a bit like Lightning

If Apple did indeed “invent” USB Type-C, it would be very strange that Nokia would have announced a product with it last year (the N1 Android tablet, pictured above). While Apple was the first to announce a laptop with the standard, Google’s Chromebook Pixel 2 was announced hours later, and is the first laptop to ship with the spec, landing in reviewers’ hands last week. It is strange, however, that Google seemingly held their announcement back until after Apple announced the MacBook.

Screenshot 2015-03-15 06.27.54Apple on its contribution to USB-C

On the other hand, there is a seemingly complete list of engineers from a number of companies (below) that contributed and Apple isn’t even in the top Chair or Editor roles, though it does have more listed contributors than all but a few companies, including Intel, Tyco and JAE.

All told, Apple contributed 18 of 79 named engineers listed on the connector certification project or under 23%. 

Clearly, Intel is still out in front of overall USB technology development; after all, it has to create the Broadwell chips that interface with USB Type C on the Pixel 2 and new MacBook. A side note and a little history here: Intel invented the original USB spec, but the connector went nowhere until Apple put it in its colorful translucent new iMac with no legacy ports for users to fall back on. Only then did peripheral makers slowly begin building products for USB. That was a different world where Apple products didn’t demand the respect they get now and we’re already seeing a number of USB-C products getting ready for the new MacBook (and Pixel 2, I guess).

So while it might be impossible to find definitive evidence that Apple didn’t submit the initial USB Type-C proposal, it at very best had an incredible amount of help from the rest of the industry getting the standard into production.

Apple-invent-USB-C Apple-invent-USB-type-C


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Seth Weintraub

Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites.

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