Homogeneity is the name of the game. Ken Pillonel loves his Apple products, but he hates the fact that he needs separate charging cables for his laptop and iPad, and his iPhone and AirPods. Determined to solve this problem, Pillonel began his journey last year by designing the world’s first USB-C iPhone. This involved creating a custom PCB ribbon cable with a USB-C port that he fitted into the iPhone after removing the built-in lightning port’s circuitry. The result was a phone that not only charged via USB-C but also allowed for data transfers. Now the only missing piece of the puzzle was replacing the lightning port on his AirPods – a feat that he achieved this year.
Say hello to the world’s first (and only) USB-C AirPods. Hacked together by Pillonel, a master’s degree student in robotics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, these AirPods are no different from your regular pair of Apple-branded TWS earbuds. It’s just that they charge via USB-C.
Designer: Ken Pillonel
Creating this unique prototype involved pulling apart an AirPods case, which is a feat in itself, given that the case is sealed shut. Once Pillonel pried the plastic housing off the case, he undid the lightning port’s ribbon cable, only to replace it with a ribbon cable he designed on his own, with a USB-C port at the end. As simple as that sounds, Pillonel points out that the actual process is just as complicated. Not only is making a ribbon cable expensive, Apple puts up tonnes of safeguards to prevent crazy engineers from doing such things.
The final result marks a monumental achievement for Pillonel, who just wanted to use the same cable to charge all his Apple devices. As demonstrated in his YouTube Shorts video, he uses the same USB-C cable to charge his MacBook, iPhone, and even the AirPods!
According to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, it’s speculated that Apple will transition the iPhone to USB-C in 2023. Thanks to pressure from the EU, Apple is considering ditching the proprietary charging port for the iPhone to opt for the global USB standard, but whether these speculations are true is anyone’s guess. Even if Apple does make a USB-C iPhone, it now faces a dilemma of having to change the ports on all its AirPods (even the Max), which all currently charge via lightning. It’s in such situations that experiments like Pillonel’s pay off, given that he’s sold his USB-C iPhone PCB in the past, for anyone who wants to mod their Apple smartphone.