Verity Intern Ken Pillonel Creates World’s First USB-C Port for iPhone
Ken Pillonel is a busy man. While working on his master’s degree in robotics (plus a minor in data science) at EPFL in Lausanne and taking on an internship at Verity, he decided he’d had enough with Apple’s non-standard Lightning connectors. To solve the problem, he built his own modification, installing a standard USB-C port into the iPhone. In recent weeks, his video on the modification has spread like wildfire.
We had a quick chat with the man of the hour to learn more.
What prompted the idea of modifying an iPhone in this way?
To be honest my initial drive was sheer frustration! In 2015 Apple chose to innovate by only putting USB-C ports on its Macs and set an industry example. While the idea took a little while to be adopted by the industry, most devices coming out today have this port. Why not the iPhone?
How difficult was the modification?
The project took me about 18 months (with a few months break while travelling). I ran into a lot of problems, and I almost gave up on the project many times but thankfully in the end I always found solutions. I don’t necessarily think this was a difficult project but simply required the right mix of knowledge in different fields and a lot of creativity. To briefly summarize the process; I tried to understand the operation of a cable sold by Apple that converts from Lightning to USB-C. I then recreated a flexible electronic circuit with the chips present in this cable and integrated it inside the iPhone. I have posted more in-depth details on my blog Kenp.io for those interested.
Has your modified iPhone lost any functionality?
No, it hasn’t lost any phone-specific features. You can charge it and you can synchronize your data with a computer. Some special accessories sold separately however, do not work in this version, i.e. for connecting screens.
What is the advantage of switching to USB-C?
For me it’s a simple motivation, everything else I own has USB Type-C, so I wanted to have one charger and one cable to charge all of my devices. It makes everyday life easier. I also imagine that if iPhone adopted a USB-C charger there would be a significant reduction in electronic waste.
Do you think Apple will adopt standard connectors?
I think they should, but I don’t think they will, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Apple earns a commission on every Lightning cable and accessory sold – they won’t readily lose this income. Secondly, I believe Apple is waiting for the development of an iPhone without any connectors to be advanced enough to be put on the market. Removing the connector completely will improve the water resistance of the device, make it thinner, and remove a mechanical component from the device, which may make it more durable.
Will you share your process for others to replicate?
In the coming weeks I plan to release all the knowledge I have accumulated with the methods to reproduce what I’ve done. I imagine other people will replicate the process or even modify the learnings to work on other iPhone models. Theoretically, my circuit diagram works on all iPhones that have a Lightning port, iPhone 13 included.
You’re currently completing an Internship with Verity as part of your Master’s degree – What made you want to join Verity and what is your role here?
I was in search of an internship, and I was ideally looking for a small to mid-sized company working on cutting-edge technology. I found a listing for a position at Verity which ticked all the boxes for me and looked very promising. I applied and then done an interview with my now colleagues Alejandro and Pierre. Following the interview I just had a great feeling about working with them, which gave me confidence it would also be the case with other people at the company. I had decided that Verity would be my first choice and when I received a few positive answers the same week I was very happy to get a call from Verity where I took the offer on the spot. The whole team was just so professional, friendly and the product looked great, so it made sense. I’m working in the Hardware office. I’m currently finding new automated ways to test electronic circuits after manufacturing. This will be useful in the near future as Verity is scaling up quickly and has an ambitious production ramp-up.
What are you most enjoying in your role with Verity?
I love solving practical problems, it just gives me an immense sense of accomplishment. Finding ways to make things as simple, efficient, and inexpensive as possible stimulates my creativity and I get to learn new things every day. It feels like I’m constantly growing and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow with Verity.