USB C on iPhone
Image Credit: Apple

The iPhone is changing charging cables again. I hear your groan. Switching is going to be annoying - but ultimately could make our lives better. Really.

With the iPhone 15, Apple is ditching the stripey Lightning connector we've used since 2012. It's replacing it with a shiny connector called USB-C you might already know from laptops, tablets or most Android phones.

That means if you buy the latest iPhone, you're going to end up replacing all the spare charging cables strewn around your home, car and office. Also annoying: You may need new headphones, if yours aren't wireless - or Apple's new $29 adapter dongle if you want to keep using what you already own. See below for my advice on living with USB-C cables, which follow a few rules of their own.

Don't want to deal with this right now? There's no rush: Beyond the port change, there are not many standout features in the iPhone 15 worth an upgrade, and older iPhones will keep on charging with your existing cables for a long time. In a few years, perhaps wireless charging - already part of the iPhone - will be common enough you can skip this mess altogether.

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This is the third cable switch in the life of the iPhone, not counting when it also ditched the headphone jack in 2016. In the end, what annoys me the most is that Apple took so long to adopt for the iPhone the cable used by the rest of the gadget world.

USB-C is the mini but mighty champion of connectors. It doesn't matter which way you stick it in: there's no "up" or "down" on either end. USB-C cables can be cheap as chips. And depending on your cable, your iPhone also could transfer data more quickly, too.

The biggest benefit is that you should end up with fewer cables to worry about. You'll be able to charge your iPhone from the same cable as billions of other phones, laptops and tablets out there. You could make friends with an Android person (yes, that's allowed) and borrow the person's cable.

Picture yourself going on vacation and packing just one charging cable. You can just plug your iPhone into your USB-C laptop charger, and it should juice up just fine. (Oops, this won't work if you also have an Apple Watch, which uses another proprietary cable.)

This is better for the environment, too, because we'll end up buying fewer single-purpose cables. The European Commission estimates a common charger will save 11,000 tons of e-waste annually in Europe alone.

But there are aspects of making the switch that could be confusing or even expensive. For one: Not all USB-C cables are created equal.

I've been researching the ins and outs of USB (pardon the pun), and I answer some of the biggest questions below.

Why is the iPhone switching to USB-C?

Apple pitched the shift as a way to join a "universally accepted standard." But it actually had no choice: The European Union passed a law requiring common plugs by 2024 to reduce e-waste and make life easier for consumers.

The rest of the smartphone world switched to the USB-C plug around 2016. What took Apple so long to give up its proprietary Lightning cable for the iPhone? Apple has actually already switched over its laptops and iPads to USB-C. But the company is notorious about not doing anything that might make it easier for people to switch to Android phones, like how it also won't make iMessage work across operating systems. Apple in the past even criticized the idea of moving away from Lightning for generating too much e-waste, and setting a dangerous precedent by allowing lawmakers to make product design decisions. But now the company's all in on the change.

A USB-C port is visible on the brand new Apple iPhone 15.

Is Apple really charging $29 for a Lightning to USB-C adapter?


If you want to use older cables or accessories with Lightning plugs, you'll need a USB-C adapter cable. Apple's costs $29. The company says it should work with most car plugs that have CarPlay.

Is there just one kind of USB-C cable?

No. USB-C is just a standardized plug and port shape. The cables might look the same but can have very different capabilities - and unfortunately it can be hard to tell them apart.

All USB-C cables support charging. But some carry as much as 240 watts of power - meaning they could charge devices much faster than cables that carry less power.

The cables also vary wildly in how fast they transfer data. Some USB-C cables can do it at 80 gigabits per second, or Gbps, allowing them to connect computers to high resolution monitors.

The cable that comes in the box for a device is usually capable of charging it at the maximum possible rate. So hold onto that one, and if you're super organized, maybe even label it.

What kind of cables is Apple including with the iPhone 15?

Inside the box of the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro, you'll get a 1-meter cable with a USB-C connector on both ends that's capable of the same (relatively slow) data-transfer speed as a Lightning cable (480 Mbps). Apple is also selling its cable for $19.

There is no charging brick. There's no adapter for your older cables. Nor are there any USB-C headphones.

If you want to take advantage of the faster data-transfer rates that the iPhone 15 Pro is capable of, you'll need to buy a separate USB-C cable capable of 10 Gbps transfers (also known as a USB 3 cable).

The new Apple iPhone 15, with EU ordered USB-C charger.

How do I choose the right USB-C cable?

Prices for USB-C cables can vary widely - from under $10 to as much as $160. You don't need to splash out on a cable with super-fast data transfers if you're only ever going to plug it into the iPhone charger next to your toothbrush.

But you also want a cable that's not going to overheat or catch fire, so I recommend sticking with a reputable brand like Anker, Cable Matters and Monoprice or one that says it's been certified by a trade group called the USB Implementers Forum, or USB-IF. (It tells me it tests them for being plugged and unplugged 10,000 times.)

How can you know the capability of a USB-C cable? Look near the plug part of the cable for a little swoopy logo with two numbers: The one on top is how fast it can transfer data, and the one on the bottom is how much power it can carry. Not all cables include this label, but usually, they'll at least list the power and speed specs on their box or website.

For most iPhone users, around 20 watts of power is just fine - that's what a standard Apple charging brick puts out. As for data transfer, these days, most people transfer data off their iPhone via WiFi, so the speed isn't really critical.

How do I use a USB-C cable safely?

Your iPhone automatically manages the amount of power coming into it. So you can plug an iPhone into the high-wattage USB-C charger for your laptop (regardless of the brand) without worrying that the phone will explode.

Just remember: It's best not to get your phone warm while charging because that will degrade the battery. (I have more tips here on extending the life of your battery.)

What about touching the end of a USB-C cable? The "live" part of the plug is actually hidden inside the metal shield you see. I wouldn't recommend stuffing crumbs into that little hole, but you shouldn't have to treat it any differently from your old Lightning cable.

What should I do with all my old Lightning iPhone cables?

Like the Lightning cable, left, a USB-C cable has no "up" or "down" side. Image Credit: Washington Post

Don't throw out all your cables just yet if you have old AirPods or an Apple Magic Mouse or keyboard. They still charge via the Lightning cable.

But if you're really done with Lightning, give the cables to a friend who has an older iPhone, or take them to an e-waste recycler. Check Call2Recycle to find one.

Your old charging bricks may be worth holding onto, though. You can buy cables with the tiny USB-C plug on one end and the older, wide USB-A plug on the other. Just know that smaller bricks like the ones Apple used to include with iPhones put out less power - meaning you'll charge more slowly.

How is the switch to USB-C good for the environment?

It could be if it stops us from buying so many cables in the future. "Given the huge amount of smartphones and cables, even small changes can make a meaningful improvement," says Lucas Rockett Gutterman, who runs the Designed to Last program for the nonprofit PIRG.

On average, we own about three separate smartphone changing cables on average, Gutterman says. If the switch to USB-C means we have just one cable and charger for all our devices, that could save 35 thousand tons of e-waste from being manufactured in the first place, he estimates.

That said, the best way to help the environment is to just wait longer before upgrading. "Over 90% of the environmental impact of smartphones comes from the phone itself," says Gutterman. "Keeping our phones for one year longer could reduce emissions equivalent to taking more than 600 thousand cars off the road for a year. Right to Repair protections, modular and durable hardware built for repair and reuse can make it easier for us to use our phones for longer."