Lightning struck: Apple switches to USB-C for iPhone 15 lineup

Thanks, Europe. Couldn't have done it without EU

Video Apple surprised almost no one on Thursday with the announcement of several iPhone 15 models and a renovated smartwatch, the details of which were more or less known or guessed by the cadre of analysts, journalists, and pundits who follow such things.

The iGiant called its media event "Wonderlust" as if to evoke a time when besotted customers formed long lines to obtain tantalizing touchscreen devices. That's a particularly optimistic spin on the current state of affairs given soft demand, China's ban on iPhones from certain government offices, and European intervention in Apple's product choices and business practices.

Specifically, the European Parliament last year decided that USB-C should be the EU standard for device charging and will be required on devices covered by the rules next year. That decision is now reflected in Apple's iPhone 15 line, which rely on USB-C cables for power and wired data transfer instead of Cupertino's proprietary Lightning cable.

Ben Wood, chief analyst at consultancy CCS Insight, told The Register that while the transition could generate some friction among Apple customers already heavily invested in Lightning cables and power adapters, it's unlikely to become a major issue and has obvious benefits.

"The rationale behind regulation forcing the use of USB-C is largely environmental, as one charging standard should result in fewer cables needing to be bought, helping to reduce material usage," said Wood. "It still seems likely that most phones will ship with a cable in the box for the foreseeable future, but this could change too.

"Apple was at the forefront of removing headphones from iPhone boxes (as it tried to drive people towards AirPods) as well as the charging brick, and the company has shown it is not afraid to challenge the status quo on this front."

Or perhaps what the US tech titan has shown is keen attention to revenue. In 2022, it was estimated that since Apple in 2020 stopped including earphones and chargers in its iPhone boxes, the biz saved about $6.2 billion worldwide.

Another expected EU-mandated change under the Digital Markets Act, tolerance of third-party app stores, received no mention at the launch party. Apple has until March 6, 2024 to comply.

CEO Tim Cook opened the event following a montage of purported customers whose lives had been saved by an attentive iPhone or Apple Watch, or at least alerted to an emergent health condition.

Apple's iPhone 15 line includes four models: the 6.1 inch iPhone 15 ($799+; 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage), the 6.1 inch iPhone 15 Pro ($999+; 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB), 6.7 inch iPhone 15 Plus ($899+; 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB), and the 6.7 inch iPhone Pro Max ($1199+; 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB).

All models come with eSIM rather than physical SIM cards. And they include a new safety feature, Roadside Assistance via satellite. Starting in the US, iPhone 15 models can reach out for help when there's no cell signal coverage over satellite connections to the American Automobile Association (AAA), with car service options for both members and non-members.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro

Apple's iPhone 15 Pro line ... Click to enlarge

These iPhones run iOS 17, which will be offered as a free download starting September 18, along with iPadOS and tvOS 17, and watch OS 10 for other devices. The iOS 17 operating system update adds contact customization in the Phone app and Live Voicemail with real-time transcription, in case you want your spam messages spelled out. Messages gets a Check In feature for notifying friends and family about travel arrivals. And NameDrop allows easier contact sharing between iDevices, among other enhancements.

Processor-wise, iPhone 15 relies on the homegrown Arm-compatible A16 chip (6-core CPU; 5-core GPU; 16-core Neural Engine) seen in the iPhone 14 Pro models. The iPhone 15 Pro line moves up to the A17 Pro chip (6-core CPU; 6-core GPU; 16-core Neural Engine) which is fabricated using a 3nm process.

All models include an updated Ultra Wideband processor (the U1 chip that debuted in iPhone 11), which helps track local, similarly-chipped objects through the UWB wireless standard and will enable better interoperation with Apple's planned "spatial computing" headset, Vision Pro.

All four models include USB-C charging ports, but the Pro models support faster data transfer (USB 3 at up to 10 Gb/s). The lesser models will have to settle for USB 2 at up to 480 Mb/s. New, second-gen AirPods Pro also use USB-C for charging rather than Lightning based, we note. Cupertino is also now selling Lightning-to-USB-C adapters.

You can replay the launch event in the video below:

Youtube video

Intel coincidentally on Tuesday announced Thunderbolt 5, the next iteration of its high-speed data transfer standard which promises 80 gigabits per second (Gbps) of bi-directional bandwidth.

Apple's latest iPhones also all support MagSafe charging and the new Qi2 standard, which allows 15W charging from non-MagSafe third-party accessories.

The design of the iPhones is similar, though the Pro line trades the hardware mute button for an Action button that can trigger various functions. The Pro line also features a frame made of titanium rather than steel.

"Titanium is incredibly strong and durable," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's SVP of worldwide marketing. "Yet at the same time it is much lighter, making these our lightest Pro models ever. …We're also introducing the thinnest borders ever on an iPhone. This enabled us to reduce iPhone dimensions without affecting the display size."

In addition to getting rid of the Lightning port, Apple is dropping the "notch," which the company refers to as its TrueDepth camera array – it's a cutout area at the top of recent iPhone screens for the front facing camera. The iPhone 14 Pro models ditched the notch for what Apple calls its Dynamic Island, a rounded, variably sized bar within the screen border for the camera array that can also deliver information. As of iPhone 15, all the models include a Dynamic Island.

In terms of cameras, the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus sport a 48-megapixel main camera (26mm, f/1.6 aperture), a 12-megapixel Ultra Wide camera (13mm, f/2.4 aperture), and a 12MP 2x Telephoto that's enabled by the quad‑pixel sensor (52 mm, ƒ/1.6 aperture).

The iPhone 15 Pro gets a 48-megapixel main camera (24 mm, ƒ/1.78 aperture), a 12MP Ultra Wide (13 mm, ƒ/2.2 aperture), a 12MP 2x Telephoto that's enabled by the quad‑pixel sensor (48 mm, ƒ/1.78 aperture), and a 12MP 3x Telephoto (77 mm, ƒ/2.8 aperture). The iPhone 15 Pro Max features similar cameras but with a 12MP 5x Telephoto (120 mm, ƒ/2.8 aperture) rather than 3x.

The front-facing TrueDepth camera on all models is 12MP, ƒ/1.9 aperture.

The standard and Plus models are available in black, blue, green, yellow, and pink. The Pro line comes in black titanium, white titanium, blue titanium, and natural titanium. Orders open today, with availability planned for September 22.

And more: iCloud, watches, etc

Apple also announced new iCloud Storage tiers: 6 TB ($30/month) and 12 TB ($60/month), because high-res pictures take up a lot of space. We're also promised a macOS Sonoma release on September 26.

Apple Watch Series 9, running watchOS 10, includes a new S9 chip and it's allegedly the corporation's first carbon-neutral product. In keeping with that commitment, Apple will no longer offer a leather wristband nor use leather in any of its products.

Instead of leather, Apple is offering "FineWoven, a luxurious and durable micro twill made of 68 percent post-consumer recycled content that has significantly lower carbon emissions compared to leather."

How this will play in politically conservative states where politicians make a show of disparaging "liberal" environmental concerns remains to be seen. Cows presumably approve.

"Apple Watch Series Nine has been redesigned on the inside with the all new S9 SiP (system in package) giving you a big boost in performance and capabilities," said Deidre Caldbeck, director of Apple Watch product marketing. "It's our most powerful watch chip yet. The S9 CPU has 5.6 billion transistors, 60 percent more than Series 8, and its GPU is 30 percent faster."

Series 9 enables a new gesture called Double Tap, which relies on machine learning to detect tapping your index finger and thumb together twice. Double Tap controls the primary button in an app, making it suitable as a discreet way to trigger specific functions like handling calls or starting recordings.

"Double Tap makes interacting with your watch faster, easier, and more convenient," said Jeff Williams, chief operating officer.

Apple Watch Series 9 can process Siri requests that do not require network access, such as setting a timer, on-device, and thanks to its Neural Engine, dictation is said to be 25 percent more accurate.

Apple Watch Series 9 starts at $399 in the US, and Apple Watch SE starts at $249 in the US. Orders in the US and many other countries open today, with availability set for Friday, September 22.

Apple also introduced Apple Watch Ultra 2 ($799), for more extreme watch activities. ®

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