On Today’s Curious Wall Street Journal Report Claiming the Next iPhone Will Replace Lightning Port With USB-C

Takashi Mochizuki, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

People familiar with Apple’s plans said the iPhone releases this year would include two models with the traditional LCD and a third one with an OLED screen.

Exactly in line with Ming Chi Kuo’s report from a few weeks ago:

  • A single new high-end (and higher-priced) iPhone with a physical width similar to that of an iPhone 7, but with an edge-to-edge design that allows for a display closer in size to a 7 Plus. (I’m guessing “iPhone Pro”.)
  • Two new models similar to the current iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (presumably the “7S” and “7S Plus”).

    They said Apple would introduce other updates including a USB-C port for the power cord and other peripheral devices, instead of the company’s original Lightning connector. The models would also do away with a physical home button, they said. Those updates would give the iPhone features already available on other smartphones.

This is a terribly-written paragraph. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus already have no physical home button. Is he saying the Touch ID sensor is going away? Which new iPhones is Mochizuki claiming will have USB-C ports instead of Lightning? Only the high-end OLED model with the edge-to-edge display, or all three? It doesn’t make much sense to me that Apple would switch any iPhone to USB-C, but if they’re going to switch one, they should switch all of them.

If Apple had any plans to switch from Lightning to USB-C, why wouldn’t they have switched last year with the iPhone 7, when they started making tens of millions of pairs of Lightning ear buds? Why did they put a Lightning port on the AirPods case? My expectation has been that iPhones will never switch to USB-C — that Apple would stick with Lightning until they can do away with external ports entirely.

I have no inside dope on this, but it rings false to my ears. If there’s any truth to it, I’d bet that this year’s iPhones will ship with USB-C chargers, that use a USB-C to Lightning cable to connect to the phones. That makes sense, given that Apple has dropped USB-A ports from the newest MacBook models.

Using OLED displays would allow Apple to introduce a phone with a new look to fuel sales. Apple’s last major design overhaul came with the iPhone 6, a slimmer phone with larger displays that helped reignite sales growth and propel the company to record profit. The iPhone 7, introduced in September 2016, came with a similar design to its predecessor, contributing to slower sales in China. Analysts say Chinese consumers feel more motivated to buy a new phone when it has a different look that gives it appeal as a status symbol.

I get it. All things considered, a new iPhone that looks new is going to be more exciting than one that re-uses an existing design. I also get that, for cultural reasons, this is particularly true in China. (Ben Thompson has been emphasizing this for years.)

But this idea that anything short of a radically new design is bad for Apple just isn’t true. Based on the above passage, a reader would logically conclude that iPhones sales are down because the industrial design is too similar to its predecessor. But Apple just reported the highest iPhone sales in a quarter ever. Again, if they can meet demand, an exciting new hardware design should drive sales even higher — but it’s completely wrong to suggest that the similar-to-the-6/6S design of the iPhone 7 has led to a slump.