Engineer's USB-C AirPods give a glimpse at a Lightning-free paradise
Ken Pillonel’s custom AirPods is the follow-up to the world’s first iPhone with USB-C.
Ken Pillonel has created some fascinating devices with the world’s first iPhone with a USB-C port and the first Android phone with a Lightning connector. But now Pillonel is applying his expertise to a slightly different category of device with the world’s first USB-C AirPods.
In a new video, Pillonel describes his latest device as a way to combat the frustration of needing multiple types of cables to charge Apple devices. And after taking a pair of stock AirPods, he was able to successfully switch out Apple’s proprietary Lighting Connector for a USB-C port, allowing him to charge the case and earbuds with the same plug you’d use for an iPad Pro or MacBook.
When asked about the inspiration for his latest gadget hack, Pillonel told Engadget that his reasoning was pretty simple. He said “What Apple products do I use every day, and which ones are still stuck with a Lightning port?” However, switching out the jack on an Apple device isn’t easy, with Pillonel saying it was actually more difficult to create a working AirPods case with USB-C than it was to add a Lightning connector to an Android phone. He said “It was harder because I set high standards for how the finished product needed to look.”
Another challenge was figuring out a way for others to replicate his success on their own devices, with Pillonel planning on making the entire project open source in the near future. “I made it so that [the port] is a brand-new replacement part for the AirPods. You just unplug the old Lightning connector, and you plug in the new USB-C circuit,” he said.
But in the end, it seems the troubles were worth the effort, with Pillonel saying “It is so satisfying to be able to use only one cable and one charger for all my Apple devices. It really is how it should be.” And in a way, that’s sort of the dream: Having one cable that can recharge or send data to any device, regardless of what kind of gadget it is or who made it.
This issue is something the tech industry and governments across the world have been grappling with for a while. However, thanks to a proposal last year from the EU, it seems Europe may be getting closer to making the dream a reality. And his own way, Pillonel is trying to show the benefits of what having a truly universal port might look like in the real world, saying “I believe that the iPhone will be the turning point in the switch to USB-C. If the next iPhone makes the switch, then we can expect all the other accessories to gradually lose the Lightning connector.”
However, one question that remains for Pillonel is, after successfully adding working USB-C ports to the few remaining Apple devices still reliant on a Lightning connector, what’s next on the docket? He noted that because all iPads (aside from the standard 10.2-inch model) have already made the switch to USB-C, it’s not really worth his time to tackle one of Apple’s tablets. He said “I might do a few other USB-C projects, but there is definitely a long list of other modifications I want to attempt!”
In the meantime, for those looking for more info on how to add USB-C to their own AirPods, stay tuned to Pillonel’s YouTube channel for a longer, more in-depth video coming soon.