This Robotics Engineer Created the World’s First USB-C iPhone as a Hobby Project

BY Chandraveer Mathur

Published 12 Oct 2021

Ken Pillonel, a robotics engineering student from the Swiss institute École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL) has managed to retrofit an iPhone X with a USB-C port. He has uploaded a video showing the modded iPhone in action.

Today, Apple is the only smartphone manufacturer using a proprietary charging connector. However, if your iPhone is out of warranty and you really want USB-C, this is something you could try out (at your own risk).

According to a blog post from May, to reverse engineer the Lightning connector, Pillonel extracted one male connector (called a C94 board) from a third-party cable. He then proceeded to extract the female port from an iPhone. Next, he soldered wires from the bare male connector’s PCB to another with a USB-C connector and ended up with a working prototype.

From the video above, it is clear that Pillonel had to cut the phone’s frame with a CNC to ensure the port was serviceable. This is because the Lightning port is smaller than the USB-C. He also had to design and 3D print a retaining bracket for the port. You can watch a more detailed walkthrough of his project here.

Pillonel’s blog post detailing his thought process and procedure reveals the ingenuity and complexity of the whole undertaking. He was able to achieve both data transfer and power delivery through the modification. If Apple outfitted the iPhone with a USB-C port from the get-go, this would open up doors to universal compatibility across hardware, faster charging speeds, and improved sustainability.

Moreover, Apple could actually switch to USB-C if it wanted to. The MacBook series and the iPad Pro already use USB-C In fact, Europe already proposed a regulation mandating USB-C for all phones and electronic devices to reduce e-waste and consumer inconvenience.

In a future video that is currently in development, Pillonel promised to explain how he managed to squeeze the USB-C port where the Lightning port used to be in the iPhone.