USB-C vs Lightning: What are the differences

USB-C vs Lightning: What are the differences

USB-C Type and Lightning are two types of connectors that are used for charging and data transfer on various devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and accessories. However, they are not the same and have some key differences that affect their compatibility, performance, and functionality. In this article, we will compare USB-C and Lightning in terms of their design, speed, power, and durability, and explain why these differences matter for consumers.

Design: USB-C is universal, Lightning is proprietary

The most obvious difference between the two is that Lightning is Apple’s proprietary cable, and USB-C is universal (which makes sense, considering USB stands for Universal Serial Bus). USB-C connectors are also found in USB-C hubs that allow you to connect many devices (including monitors) to a computer over a single port.

Lightning cables are only meant to work with Apple devices, such as iPhones, iPads, AirPods, and some accessories. The exception is the iPad Pro, which adopted USB-C starting with the 3rd generation models in 2018. Lightning has remained on the iPhone since 2012, while other manufacturers have used several types of USB ports before (mostly) settling on USB-C.

USB-C has a symmetrical design that allows you to plug it in either way, while Lightning has a specific orientation that requires you to plug it in the right way. Both connectors are reversible, meaning you can use them to connect devices in either direction.

Speed: USB-C is significantly faster than Lightning

Both USB-C and Lightning allow data transfer to and from a computer but at vastly different speeds. Even within the same connector, the exact speed often varies from one device to the next.

USB-C is capable of supporting USB4, the latest and fastest USB specification. As a result, USB-C cables can transfer speeds up to 40Gbps. By comparison, Lightning cables are much slower and transfer data at USB 2.0 rates of 480Mbps. Complicating matters is that Apple doesn’t release all specifications for its proprietary technology, so it’s unclear what Lightning’s actual maximum transfer speed is.

As the numbers indicate, USB-C has a massive speed advantage over Lightning. That said, this advantage isn’t as significant as it seems, considering most people now transfer data wirelessly from their phones and other devices instead of using a cable.

Power: USB-C supports higher charging power than Lightning

Between USB-C and Lightning, only the former can supply power to larger electronics like laptops. In fact, USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) was recently revised to support 240W of charging power. But even before that, devices could pull up to 100W with a compatible USB-C cable. That’s a lot higher than the 25W Apple pushes via the Lightning connector.

Moreover, not all Android smartphones rely on the basic Power Delivery standard. A handful of manufacturers also offer their own proprietary charging protocols using the USB-C connector. Examples include OPPO’s SuperVOOC and Xiaomi’s HyperCharge technologies. Both protocols already support charging power above 100W, albeit only on a select few models. Still, with that much power, you can charge up a smartphone from empty to full within 20 minutes.

Lightning doesn’t charge as fast as USB-C, but that could be an intentional limitation. The latest iPhone 15 series still doesn’t exceed 25-27W, at least according to Apple’s spec sheet and tests conducted on previous-gen iPhone models. Apple’s decision to limit charging power to 25W on the iPhone might be a conservative one to limit heat output in such a small form factor. That said, the company opted to use USB-C on the MacBook Pro and Air series instead – with support for up to 100W charging power. Similarly, the iPad Air and Pro have also moved past Lightning and can charge at speeds above 25W, but not as high as 100W or even 65W.

Durability: Both connectors are reliable and sturdy

Both USB-C and Lightning connectors are designed to be durable and reliable. They can withstand thousands of plug-in cycles without breaking or wearing out. However, there are some minor differences in their construction that may affect their longevity.

USB-C connectors have more pins than Lightning connectors (24 vs 8), which means they have more potential points of failure. However, this also means they have more redundancy and can still function even if some pins are damaged. Additionally, USB-C connectors have a metal casing that protects them from physical damage.

Lightning connectors have fewer pins, which means they have less complexity and less chance of malfunctioning. However, this also means they have less flexibility and can only support certain functions. Furthermore, Lightning connectors have a plastic casing that may be more prone to cracking or bending.

Why do the differences matter?

The differences between USB-C and Lightning matter for several reasons. First, they affect the compatibility of devices and accessories. If you have a USB-C device, you can use it with any USB-C cable or adapter, regardless of the brand or manufacturer. However, if you have a Lightning device, you can only use it with Apple-approved Lightning cables or adapters, which may be more expensive or harder to find.

Second, they affect the performance and functionality of devices. If you have a USB-C device, you can enjoy faster data transfer and charging speeds, as well as more versatility and features. For example, you can use a USB-C cable to connect your phone to a monitor, keyboard, mouse, or external hard drive. However, if you have a Lightning device, you may experience slower data transfer and charging speeds, as well as more limitations and restrictions. For example, you may need a separate adapter or dongle to connect your phone to other devices or accessories.

Third, they affect the future of technology and innovation. USB-C is widely regarded as the current standard for charging and data transfer, and it is expected to become more prevalent and dominant in the coming years. USB-C is also an open standard that allows for continuous improvement and development by various stakeholders. However, Lightning is a closed standard that is controlled by Apple and may not keep up with the latest advancements and trends. Lightning is also likely to be phased out eventually, as Apple has already switched to USB-C on some of its devices.


USB-C and Lightning are two different types of connectors that have their own advantages and disadvantages. Type-C USB is universal, faster, more powerful, and more versatile than Lightning. However, Lightning is proprietary, simpler, more consistent, and more reliable than USB-C TYPE. The differences between them matter for consumers who want to get the best performance, functionality, and compatibility from their devices and accessories.

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