A few years ago Apple introduced the new, slimmer, faster, and easier to use connector called Lightning. Why? Because the iPhone and iPad were not thin enough for design honcho Jonny Ive, and the old 32-pin connector was holding back, well, ever more thinness. Plus, Lightning connector could be used upside down or right side up, so it was perfect. Except for one thing.
Lightning, Meet USB-C
Apple has this wonderful history of inventing clever new technology and bringing it to the marketplace, making it successful by using the technology itself, only to watch the marketplace select something else as a standard.
My case in point is FireWire, a high speed communication standard developed by Apple before Steve Jobs’ second coming. FireWire was great but that was then this is now.
It was developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Apple, which called it FireWire. The 1394 interface is comparable to USB though USB has more market share. Apple first included FireWire in some of its 1999 Macintosh models, and most Apple Macintosh computers manufactured in the years 2000 – 2011 included FireWire ports. However, in 2011 Apple began replacing FireWire with the Thunderbolt interface and, as of 2014, FireWire has been replaced by Thunderbolt on new Macs.
You can see where this is going, right?
Remember Thunderbolt? Good. Say goodbye to Thunderbolt. Though developed by Intel, Apple’s engineers thought it had more potential than FireWire, so FireWire was mostly scuttled and Thunderbolt arrived to some applause because it used the fledgling Mini DisplayPort connector available on many devices a few years ago.
This copper-based version of the Light Peak (Thunderbolt) concept was co-developed by Apple and Intel. Apple registered Thunderbolt as a trademark, but later transferred the mark to Intel, which held overriding intellectual-property rights. Thunderbolt controllers multiplex one or more individual data lanes from connected PCIe and DisplayPort devices for transmission via one duplex Thunderbolt lane, then de-multiplex them for use by PCIe and DisplayPort devices on the other end. A single Thunderbolt port supports up to six Thunderbolt devices via hubs or daisy chains; as many of these as the host has DP sources may be Thunderbolt monitors.
Thunderbolt 3, though, uses the USB Type-C connectors, which won’t save the former because why have multiple standards on the same cable? USB-C makes Lightning and Thunderbolt appear more like Apple’s FireWire. In other words, goodbye FireWire, goodbye Thunderbolt.
Apple Pioneers, Intel Settles
Hello, USB Type C which kinda sorta mostly combines everything Apple did with FireWire, Thunderbolt, and Lightning into a single, thin, small, reversible, cable that daisy chains almost everything. There is very little to not like about USB-C. Finally, one cable for everything. There’s even potential to use USB-C as an audio cable, replacing the analog mini-jacks that have been in use since well into the last century.
Guess what? Apple wants to do that with the Lightning cable. Get rid of the old analog headphone and microphone jack in the iPhone and replace it with an all digital connection using the already built-in Lightning connector and cable. Why? Because thin.
Here’s what’s happening. Again. Just as FireWire came into prominence only to be abandoned to market forces that required a standard that everyone uses, Thunderbolt is meeting the same fate, and now we see much the same conclusion coming in the near future with the Lightning connector, which does some of what USB Type-C does but not as much and not with the same future ubiquity built in.
Lightning is Apple’s new 21st century FireWire.