Apple's Dream for iPhones Could Actually Be a Nightmare

Commentary: Apple's iPhone 14 edges a step closer to a portless smartphone. But a wireless-only phone with no charging or data port is a bad idea.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertise Processors, semiconductors, web browsers, quantum computing, supercomputers, AI, 3D printing, drones, computer science, physics, programming, materials science, USB, UWB, Android, digital photography, science. Credentials
  • Shankland covered the tech industry for more than 25 years and was a science writer for five years before that. He has deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and more.
Stephen Shankland
4 min read
A close-up of a charging cable next to an iPhone Lightning port

An iPhone 13 Pro with an Apple Lightning port and charging cable.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The iPhone 14 smartphones go a step further in Apple's quest for a portless phone, making the new models sleeker and stronger by dumping the SIM card slot and relying on eSIM chips

Gone is another mechanical vulnerability to dust and water, following Apple's choice to evict the 3.5mm headphone jack starting in 2016 and dumping the physical home button starting in 2017. Extrapolating into the future, you might expect Apple to dump the charging and data port next, beginning the era of the portless iPhone.

I sure hope not.

I'm all for progress, but I think it's best that we keep some of those copper cables in our lives — even though that runs counter to the idea of a sleek and seamless gadget that Apple aspires to and that's now becoming feasible, as CNET senior editor Lisa Eadicicco points out.

Sleek sounds great, but hear me out. There are three big problems with a portless iPhone: charging inconvenience, slow data transfer and the rejection of wired earbuds. Here's a look at the situation.

Wireless charging shortcomings for iPhones

The first big problem with a portless iPhone is that it would be harder to charge.

You may well have charging pads in the kitchen, in the office, in your car, and perhaps even on the nightstand by your bed. You need to charge your phone elsewhere, though: at the airport, in a rental car, at your friend's house, in a college lecture hall, at a conference. Hauling around the necessary charger and cable for your "wireless" charging is even worse than carrying an ordinary wired charger.

Sure, some venues now have them built in, including coffee shops and airports, but you don't want to roll the dice on availability. Chances are good, you'd lose.

Wireless chargers also are more expensive, often bulkier and can be finicky about phone placement, even with Apple's MagSafe technology to align your phone better. On several occasions I've woken up in the morning or driven for hours and discovered that wireless charging didn't work.

Wired charging also is faster, wastes less energy and doesn't leave my phone piping hot.

If Apple ever dumps its now archaic Lightning port and embraces USB-C port on iPhones, as I expect it will, its charging and data port becomes more useful. I already use USB-C to charge my MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, Framework laptop, Sony noise-canceling earphones, Pixel 6 Pro phone, Pixel Buds Pro earbud case, and Nintendo Switch game console and controllers. When I'm traveling, I always have a USB-C charger with me, and I expect USB-C ports to become more common in airports, planes, hotels, cars and cafes. Don't hold your breath for a wireless charging pad jammed into an economy class seat.

"There is no question that USB-C is long overdue on an iPhone especially given it is on iPad and Mac," Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said. "It is not always possible to do wireless or MagSafe."

iPhone data transfer speed

The convenience of wireless data transfer makes it the norm for phones. Gone are the days when we needed to plug our phones into our laptops to synchronize and back up data. 

But if you're one of those creative types Apple shows in every iPhone launch event, shooting 4K video for your indie movie, you'll appreciate wired data transfer to get that video onto your laptop faster. That's especially true if you're shooting with Apple's ProRes video.

Watch this: iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max Review: Tons of Upgrades, Same Price

A 1-minute ProRes clip I shot recently is 210MB; imagine how fast you'll plow through the gigabytes if you're shooting more seriously. Wired connections can be nice for transferring lots of photos, too, using a tool like Apple's Image Capture utility or Adobe's Lightroom photo editing and cataloging software.

Wired earbuds if you can't afford AirPods

I know, I know, AirPods or some other wireless earbuds these days are a booming business. But wired headphones remain useful. They're even a retro fashion statement for some.

I like them because they don't run out of battery power or suffer from Bluetooth's flakiness. And they're way harder to misplace or drop down a street gutter while you're running to catch the bus.

Wired earbuds are way cheaper. Maybe you can afford $249 second-generation AirPods Pro, but not everyone can. The 3.5mm audio jack is being squeezed off smartphones, but iPhones with USB-C ports would mean it was more likely you could grab a cheap set of earbuds in the airport travel store if you forgot your AirPods.

A close-up view of an iPhone 13 Pro Lightning port

I'd rather have a USB-C port than this Apple Lightning port on my iPhone, but I'd prefer either compared to no port at all.

Stephen Shankand/CNET

Perhaps there's room for compromise — one iPhone for the wireless-only crowd and another model for people like me. But Apple doesn't like to stick consumers with confusing choices, so I'd be surprised.

The case for portless iPhones

There are, of course, some significant advantages we'd get from a portless iPhone.

It would bring a new level of sleekness and reduce the amount of cable fiddling in your life. iPhone cases would be stronger and more impervious to water and dust. Apple would get a little extra interior space it could fill with a bigger battery or other electronics.

"A portless iPhone is probably more structurally rigid and allows for more room for the Taptic Engine or speakers or maybe an antenna," said Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

Apple, which typically doesn't discuss its future plans, didn't comment for this story.

Advances in wireless charging and data transfer technologies make a portless iPhone conceivable. More advances are likely, too: better Wi-Fi. Wireless charging that works anywhere in a room, not just on a charging pad. The potential use of ultra wideband positioning technology for fast short-range data transfer, too.

I already enjoy today's wireless technologies that would make a portless iPhone possible. I just think the drawbacks of relying on them exclusively outweigh the advantages.

The best future is one that keeps that charging and data port. So, Apple, please don't ditch it, too. And while your engineers are looking at the subject, how about USB-C?