Evaluating the rumors of the 2020 and 2021 iPhones

It hasn’t even been three months since the release of Apple’s latest iPhone lineup and already the rumor mill is working overtime on what might arrive in the company’s smartphones next year and, believe it or not, the year after that.

Even if the iPhone is making up a smaller percentage of Apple’s revenue these days, it hasn’t ceased being the product that defines Apple, meaning speculation remains at peak levels. And all the smartwatches, streaming services, and fancy wireless headphones aren’t going to be changing that calculus anytime soon.

Certainly the next iPhone is still a way off, but it’s worth taking a moment to look at this latest round of rumors and think critically about what they might portend—even if they don’t end up coming true.

No port in a storm

Let’s start with the latest tidbit to dribble out: that the 2021 iPhone—not this coming year’s, but the year after’s—will lack any sort of physical port whatsoever, relying instead on wireless connectivity for both data transfer and charging.

iphone xr ports Christopher Hebert/IDG

The days of the Lightning port on the iPhone may be numbered.

On the face of it, this idea hardly seems difficult to believe: the company’s long been on a mission to reduce and, where possible, eliminate ports. The iPhone 7 did away with the headphone jack. The 2015 MacBook had only a single USB-C port for power and connectivity.

With the inclusion of wireless charging in more recent iPhones, it’s certainly not impossible that Apple is heading in this direction. Removing the data port frees up more space on the interior of the phone, which potentially means more battery life, and removing it on the outside opens up the possibility for—an Apple favorite—a thinner phone. Not to mention that it’s one less thing you have to water- and dust-proof.

All of that said, part of me remains skeptical. For one thing, wireless charging isn’t yet as omnipresent as physical plugs. It would be all too possible to get stuck somewhere with no ability to charge. For another, physical connections allow for a level of diagnostic troubleshooting that you can’t always do via a wireless connection (especially if the wireless capabilities are themselves the problem). Even the Apple TV has a secret Lightning diagnostic port. Plus, there are still accessories that you just can’t use without a port—microphones, for example—which means Apple might need to come up with some way to accommodate users of those devices.

I definitely think it’s plausible that Apple is currently experimenting with the idea of an iPhone without physical ports—heck, these days I rarely plug my phone into anything but my car charger. But not everything the company investigates ends up in a shipping product.