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Apple Cables and Chargers

Updated on June 6, 2019

The Charging Cable

Since 2012 Apple has used Lightning connector cables to charge iPhones and iPads. Recently, Lightning has been replaced by USB-C on the higher end iPads. This might mean that USB-C will soon be used for iPhones also, although we never know what Apple may do until they actually do it.

USB-C refers to the physical shape of a connector, not what it does or can do.

Many people would welcome a change to USB-C. Being effectively forced into a proprietary cable probably means higher prices. USB-C cables are easy to find and are being used in more and more devices.

Did you know about Lightning and its connection to Harley-Davidson? Yes, those motorcycle folks had a trademark on Lightning, so Apple had to buy the right to use it for these cables. Apparently Harley-Davidson didn’t entirely give the trademark over and probably can still make a Lightning motorcycle if they want to.

However, Lightning cables aren’t just a bunch of wires in a sheath. They also have electronic chips inside. One chip figures out which way you plugged it in and arranges everything to work correctly. The chips detect what kind of device is attached and learn whether that device needs to send power or receive power. It’s not just power as the phone or iPad can also transmit data and audio in either direction.

There’s even a serial number printed on the cable. It is faint grey, nearer to the USB end. It can be quite difficult to see. This picture shows how faint it is.

The serial number is very hard to see
The serial number is very hard to see

Durability

In addition to complaining about price, some people complain about Apple cables wearing out too quickly. I don’t personally think that is true as I have many Lightning cables that I have used for years. But I do treat my cables gently and am careful to grab the cable right at the hard plastic part rather than tugging at the cable itself. However, a cable that I used in my car got rougher treatment and only lasted about two years, so I don’t disagree entirely.

Wireless charging is now possible on the newer Apple phones. That could help reduce complaints about losing or damaging cables.

Belkin lightning cables are even more expensive than the cables Apple makes itself, but are supposedly tougher because they are made with Kevlar and double braided Dacron nylon (the same stuff used for parachute cords and high-pressure firehoses). Belkin says that these cables are tested to over 5,000 bend cycles.

The Wall Plug

What about charging? The little 5 watt wall plug that comes with the current phones certainly isn’t fast. It requires an hour or more on the newer phones to charge them even halfway, and the new 7.5 watt wireless chargers aren’t that much better. For those newer phones, the 12 watt iPad charger (which costs exactly the same as the 5 watt) will get you to 50% in less than 45 minutes. You could also use one of the 18 watt MacBook chargers, but you won’t gain much speed above that 12 watt charger, so it may not be worth the extra expense.

Battery Care

Apple’s own website tells you “Charge your Apple lithium-ion battery whenever you want. There’s no need to let it discharge 100% before recharging.” These batteries have no “memory” so you can charge whenever you want.

Batteries do deteriorate over time, though. It’s a simple matter of “charge cycles “. One charge cycle is when you’ve used 100% of your battery’s capacity. If you used 25% each day for four days, that’s one charge cycle. Batteries last for several hundred charge cycles, but it’s easy to see why that doesn’t translate into a large number of years. Typically, two to three years is all you can expect.

Apple can replace your old battery fairly inexpensively ($49 to $69, depending on model). It’s usually done right in the store in about an hour, but if it has to be sent out, that will take three to five days. Always be sure to have your phone backed up before bringing it for service: it’s always possible to lose data when a phone is serviced.

What about leaving it on the charger overnight? That does slightly hurt your battery, but it’s so minor that for most of us it’s not worth the trouble to avoid it. Apple says they will be helping us with that in IOS 13 “by reducing the time your iPhone spends fully charged. iPhone learns from your daily charging routine so it can wait to finish charging past 80% until you need to use it." I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it sounds like your phone will learn that you usually it from charging at a certain time each day and will adjust charging itself to avoid being at full charge for hours prior to that.

Extreme heat and extreme cold affect batteries.

Don’t leave your phone on your car dashboard in the summer. If heat is unavoidable, turning your phone off can help prevent damage.

Some cases trap heat and should be removed when charging.

Extreme heat can even crack your phone screen!

Try to keep your phone close to your body when temperatures are below freezing. Battery life will diminish in these conditions, but fortunately that‘s temporary. Damage from heat can be permanent.

Apple recommends not charging your battery above 50% if you will not be using it. They warn that this can permanently damage the battery.

Reducing battery drain

There are many small and large things you can do to improve how long you can use your phone before it runs out of battery. Your own Settings app will make suggestions under the Battery section.

A simple Web search will turn up many other suggestions, but the biggest offenders are screen brightness and Background App Refresh. However, some apps can use too much battery. You can see the amount that apps have used right in that Battery section. Anything using a high percentage should be closed right after use or avoided entirely.


These apps use little battery and can be left running
These apps use little battery and can be left running

You may have been taught to “swipe away” apps to save battery, but that’s not necessarily good advice. Restarting an app requires a large amount of battery, so if it shows as a small percentage in the battery usage section and you will use it again soon, leave it alone.

Any questions?

Please read other folks comments before asking a question that may have already been answered. I will not respond if your question has already been asked and answered.

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