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You better believe a port-less iPhone is coming in 2021

Hanif Jackson/Digital Trends

How crazy is that rumor the 2021 Apple iPhone will have no charging port, and therefore no ports at all?

That would mean the only way to charge this iPhone is wirelessly, and there’s no way to plug in a dongle to use wired headphones. Forget removing the headphone jack a few years back; this is a far more significant shift, as everything you do with a cable right now will have to be performed wirelessly — including backing up and syncing your iPhone. It’s wireless, or nothing.

Is it all beyond the realm of possibility? Not at all. Apple has been headed in this direction for a while.

No-hole horror

Let’s start out with the horror and indignation that goes along with every big change — rumored or otherwise — in the industry. For once it’s warranted, at least for now. The most obvious alteration this will bring is, without any port on the phone, you won’t be able to plug in a charging cable. Instead, Apple will force a shift to wirelessly charging your iPhone.

This isn’t drastically different from today. The iPhone has had wireless charging for a couple of generations now, so many people over the world already place their phone on a charging pad overnight instead of plugging it in. I know, because I’m one of them. It’s great when I’m at home, but I still always travel with the wired Apple 18-watt fast charger, and none of my friends have wireless chargers lying around for me to borrow. Neither do my local coffee shops. Wired charging is certainly more convenient at the moment.

Then there’s the fact wireless charging isn’t very fast, particularly on the iPhone. Apple uses the Qi system for wireless charging, but the power rating is just 7.5W compared to double that, 15-watts, on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, for instance. This effectively means your iPhone takes at least twice as long to charge up wirelessly as it would with even Apple’s puny 5-watt wired charger, which came with every iPhone until the 11 series. Not a problem for a bedtime charge, but not so good when you’re heading out the door and need a quick burst of juice.

Not to worry, just grab that wireless charging battery pack you had to purchase for this kind of situation, and watch the power dribble into the battery as you sit on the train — holding them together at all times, of course. It’s a good thing Apple released the AirPower mat, though, so when you get to the office you can charge up your phone, Watch, and AirPods quickly and together. Wait, that’s not right, is it? Apple’s already proven how hard it is to get wireless charging to its standards by delaying and eventually cancelling the AirPower mat project.

Wireless indignation

Permanently adopting wireless charging will need considerable readjustment, but let’s not forget about the headphone situation. There’s still a massive amount of indignation regarding the removal of the headphone jack, and that’s with the wired faithful still being able to use a lightning to 3.5mm dongle (no longer included in the box, only lightning earbuds) to remain physically tethered to their tunes.

Removal of the Lightning port takes this last resort away. There will be no way around it; you will have to use Bluetooth headphones. It’s fine, though. Apple makes the AirPods and AirPods Pro, plus there are dozens and dozens of alternatives. Hide your phone in your pocket, and enjoy wireless freedom. Welcome to the future, everyone — it’s rather lovely.

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Well, not so fast. Wired headphones still sound better than their Bluetooth counterparts; they don’t need to be charged up; and I’d imagine every household has at least one set laying around, ready to be used in a dire emergency. If not, you can pick up a pair for little more than the price of a large coffee. Bluetooth headphones are more expensive, less convenient, and not everyone has a set. No major manufacturers bundle them with a new phone, and the environmental impact from them is greater than wired versions.

Then you have alternative uses that will suffer from this move. I use a plug-in microphone to record audio for videos when I have to travel light, and Bluetooth options are neither plentiful nor as reliable to replicate the sound effectively. Many people own accessories that use the lightning port, whether it’s a dock or a battery case, all of which will become virtually useless.

And perhaps most troubling of all is the issue of syncing your device with your computer. For those unwilling to pay for extra iCloud storage, it seems a highly unlikely bet to hold out hope for a wireless option to back up or sync your iPhone to your computer. Say hello to yet another subscription just to keep your iPhone backed up. Even the way Apple reads data from the phone for repair diagnostics will be changed completely.

Using a cable is tried, tested, fast, reliable, and inexpensive. The same can’t be said for wireless alternatives.

A wireless future?

Apple itself has been prodding us in the wireless direction for a while, which is what makes this rumor compelling. Whether it’s adding wireless charging to the iPhone, the removal of the headphone jack, the release of a wireless charging case for the AirPods, or spending time and money to fail at making the AirPower mat, it has had wireless dreams for ages.

There are likely internal benefits too, like freeing up valuable space, plus it makes waterproofing easier to achieve. The alleged drawbacks on battery health aren’t really true, and the port is one less part to break on your phone. Apple won’t have to make cables anymore either, and can sell more expensive wireless charging and Bluetooth accessories too, repeating the dubious success achieved by ditching the 3.5mm socket. All this, combined with the reliable source — Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has predicted big Apple products and features in the past — makes the port-less iPhone entirely believable.

It’s not unprecedented, either. We’ve already seen real-life examples in the smartphone industry. The two best known examples are the Miezu Zero and the Vivo Apex 2019. While there’s a good chance you’ve heard of these before, they aren’t great examples of the technology.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Meizu Zero had no ports on the curvy body and was launched as a crowdfunding project earlier this year. It failed to reach its target, and Meizu quickly distanced itself from the concept saying it was never intended to be a mass production phone, and was little more than a proof-of-concept. Whatever the situation, the crowdfunding failure wasn’t a promising start to the port-less era.

Vivo was considerably more upfront about the Vivo Apex 2019. Its Apex phones are working concepts that show what may be possible in the future, showcasing tech the company may be working on behind the scenes. In the case of the port-less Apex, it formed the basis of the Nex 3, a superphone that has virtual volume and power buttons, but a regular USB Type-C charging port too. Vivo’s not silly, it knows now is not the time for such a radical shift.

Time is on Apple’s side

Apple also knows now is not the time, and this is why the rumor applies to the 2021 iPhone. That means we’re about two years away from potentially seeing a port-less iPhone in our hands. At the moment, Apple is probably way more concerned with making 5G work in the 2020 iPhone (due next September) than messing around with charging ports.

This is important for several reasons. It means there’s no need to get into too much of a flap about it right now. The Lightning port is here to stay for another 24 months at the minimum, and no one will force you to buy the iPhone 13 without ports should it arrive. More importantly, the two year gap gives battery, wireless charging, and Bluetooth standards the chance to advance to a stage where swapping to a life without wires is less problematic than it would be, say, tomorrow — or even next year.

Time is on our side, then. Or is it? There’s one last problem here: It won’t just be Apple considering this. Assuming the accuracy of the rumor, it’s almost certain other manufacturers are working towards the same goal. Many followed Apple in the mass removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack after all, and it was actually an Android phone maker, LeEco and the Le 2 range, that did it first.

Don’t be surprised if between now and September 2021, a mainstream port-less smartphone goes on sale from a company other than Apple, and we can all see how ready the world is for complete freedom from wires. Or not, as the case may be.

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Andy Boxall
Senior Mobile Writer
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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