What is a lightning cable for Apple devices?

Find out exactly what a lightening cable is and where you can buy them for your iPhone or iPad

18 Min Read
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One cool thing about inventing a new product is that you can make up names for it. That’s what Apple did when they invented the Lightning Cable and the adapter to plug it into (called a port).

What Is A Lightning Cable?

A lightning cable charges up and transfers data between an Apple device (like an iPhone or iPad) to a power supply or computer.

Apple invented the connection and decided to call it “Lightning” due to it’s ability to transfer data and charge at a faster speed than it’s predecessor.

What Does A Lightning Cable Look Like?

This is what it looks like.

Apple Lightning Cable
Apple Lightning Cable

Is There Only One Type Of Lightning Cable?

There’s only one size of Apple’s lightning connector and only one type.

On the other end, though, you can get lots of different adapters to connect various things – like a HDMI adapter for a TV, or a USB or a SD card reader for your DSLR camera.

And interestingly, even though lightning adapters are the same, they work on both iPhones and iPads (not iPad Pro’s though).

No other company makes a lightning cable. Apple’s trademarked it.

What Is A USB To Lightning Cable?

A USB to lightning cable has the standard Apple lightning adapter on one end like in the photo above.

On the other end, it has a male USB plug that can be used to charge (if plugged into a power adapter) or it can be used to transfer data from a laptop or computer using iTunes.

Here’s what a USB to lightning cable looks like:

Apple USB to lightning cable
Apple USB to Lightning Cable

What Is A Lightning To USB Cable Used For?

A lightning to USB cable is used for charging up and transferring data between an iPhone or iPad and a computer like a laptop or Macbook. You don’t need a Macbook, this cable will work with both Windows and Apple computers.

So, if you want to backup your iPhone, you would use this cable.

Plug the USB end into your computer and the lightning end into your iPhone or iPad. iPad Pro’s released in 2019 and newer use a different type of connecter called USB-C, but if you have a normal iPad (you can check because it will have a physical Home button), this is the cable you need.

What Is A Lightning Port?

Ports are electronics connections that you plug something into. So a lightning port is a connection that you can insert a lightning adapter into.

Lightning Port (iPad / iPhone)

Here’s a lightning port and a lightning adapter or plug.

Apple lightning port and Apple lightning connector or plug

When the lightning connector is plugged into the lightning port, you can’t see the tip. It looks like this:

Apple lightning cable and connector plugged into an iPad lightning port
Apple lightning cable and connector plugged into an iPad lightning port

What Is The Difference Between A Lightning Connector, A Lightning Port And A Lightning Adapter?

Apple’s lightning connector, port and adapters open up a lot of different possibilities for data and audio sharing. A lightning port is two-way, meaning it can both send and receive data.

So you can play a MIDI keyboard (like a piano keyboard) and send the note data through the lightning cable, then the iPad will play a sound and send the audio through the lightning cable to your speakers.

Lightning Connector

Plugs into power or computer

Lightning Port

Accepts lightning connector, found on the bottom of iPhones and most iPads

Apple lightning port

Lightning Adapter

Allows data and audio on different devices to be sent from and to the iPhone or iPad. Like sharing your iPad screen with a HDTV or connecting a MIDI keyboard to play music.

Apple lightning to 3.5mm audio heaphone jack adapter

Which iPads Use A Lightning Cable?

Use this list to find out which iPads use the Apple lightning cable:

  • iPad – 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th generations
  • iPad Air – iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Air 3rd generation
  • iPad Mini – iPad Min 1st generation, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3, iPad Mini 4
  • iPad Pro – 1st and 2nd Generation

When iPad’s first were released, they used a different type of connector that was pretty ugly. It looked like this:

Old Apple charging cable.

Now, there are different types of iPads and they use different charging cables.

  • iPad, iPad Mini and iPad Air = Apple Lightning Cable
  • iPad Pro 2016 – 2018 = Apple Lightning Cable
  • iPad Pro 2019 – sooner = USB-C cable

To put it easier, if you’re not looking to buy an iPad Pro that was released in 2019 or more recent, you’ll just need a regular USB to lightning cable for charging and transferring data on any other iPad.

What Is A MFI Certified Lightning Cable?

If you’ve shopped for a replacement lightning cable, you’ll notice some of them state that they’re MFI Certified.

MFI = Made For iPad or iPhone

This is a program designed by Apple that manufacturers of Apple accessories like lightning cables must go through before their products are approved by Apple. This means better quality products and guaranteed compatibility with your iPad.

When the lightning adapter was first released, I remember buying 3rd party lightning cables from eBay and Amazon and they’d always cause an error to show up that the “accessory wasn’t supported”.

This accessory may not be supported iPad message
Connecting a non-certified charging cable to an iPad used to show this message

Sometimes my iPad or iPhone would charge with these cables, a lot of times they didn’t.

Today though, there are a lot of MFI certified lightning cables to choose from, so you don’t have to worry about seeing the same not supported message that I got.

Actually, I haven’t seen that message in years and years. Just be sure to choose an MFI certified cable.

MFI Certified Lightning To USB iPad iPhone Charger
MFI Certified Lighting Cables For iPad and iPhone On Amazon

What Adapters Can You Get For Apple Lightning Cable?

Because Apple’s lightning cable can transfer data both ways – from the iPad/iPhone and TO the iPad/iPhone you can buy some really cool adapters that help you get more from your device.

Wired Internet Connection (Ethernet) / HDMI TV Output / USB Flash Drive

Lightning to USB, RJ45 Ethernet and HDMI hub
Lightning to Ethernet / HDMI Output (Amazon)

Using this lightning adapter, you can connect a wired ethernet internet connection to your laptop. Maybe the Wi-Fi signal is weak or there isn’t one where you use your iPad. Get this and you can connect your iPad to the internet using old school ethernet cables.

You can also connect a HDMI cable and display the screen of the iPad on a HD TV or Projector. Watching a movie? Connect your iPad to your TV and watch it on the big screen.

There’s even a USB port, so you can insert a USB flash drive and access the data that’s stored on it. Essentially boosting the storage space of your iPad.

Headphone Jack

Apple 3.5mm audio headphone jack to lightning apapter
3.5mm Headphone to Lightning Adaptor (Amazon)

Apple used to include a 3.5mm headphone port on it’s iPads and iPhones. They killed that idea and just streamlined everything into it’s lightning connection.

This left a lot of people no way to listen to their music on their wired headphones.

To remedy this, Apple started including 3.5mm to headphone adapters in the boxes of iPhones for a while. They don’t any more because most people are using Bluetooth headphones, but this adapter (above) will allow you to use any wired headphone with a 3.5mm connection (which is almost all wired headphones), and plug them into your iPad.

Now, you can’t charge your iPad and listen with wired headphones at the same time, but they’ve made another adapter that has a 3.5mm headphone port and a lighting port so you can charge and listen simultaneously.

USB Port

Apple lighting to USB port adapter
Lightning to USB Adapter (Amazon)

Being able to connect a USB port means everything from a musical keyboard to a mouse can be plugged into an iPad. You can even get a USB security key that you physically have to insert before the iPad will work.

How Big Is The Lightning Connector?

The lighting connector measures 6.7mm x 1.5mm, or 0.26 inches by 0.059 inches

Lightning Connector Size and dimensions
Lightning Cable Size

Which Lightning Cable Is The Best?

Since most of the lighting cables you can buy today are MFI certified, there’s some great options. You can get short, lightweight lightning cables or reinforced, braided lighting cables that are 10 feet long.

Lightning cables can be expensive – $30 ish for an official apple one!

Apple lightning to USB cable
Official Apple Lightning To USB Cable (Apple)

My recommendation is to get these 5-pack of braided MFI certified lightning to USB cables from Amazon for under $11!

I bought them and they’re good quality and don’t cause any ‘accessory not supported‘ messages.

5 Pack 6-Foot Braided Lighting to USB Cables (Amazon)

I can personally recommend these and they’re super cheap. You get 5 in a pack and they’re all 6-feet in length, which is just about the perfect length for plugging into a power adapter and your iPad, while still being able to use it.

Braided Lighting to USB Cables (Amazon)

If you need a super long lightning to USB cable, get this one from Amazon. It’s a whopping 10 feet and braided for extra durability.

10-Foot Braided Lightning To USB Cable (Amazon)

This cable uses a braided design so it’s way more durable than the Apple made lightning to USB cable you get in the box when you buy an iPad or iPhone.

They also test the tips of these cables for braking under stress. I’ve had cables in the past where the cord starts to tear at the base of the connector and it eventually stops working. This cable has been tested up to 40,000 bends!

10-Foot Braided Lightning To USB Cable (Amazon)

Is There A Lightning To Lightning Cable?


Will A Lighting Cable Fit Into A USB-C Port?

No, a USB-C port is wider. It won’t work.

Will Apple Replace A Broken Lighting Cable?

Yes and No. Sometimes damage can occur to the lightning cable from wear and tear and everyday breakage. Things wear out, especially a charger cable that’s plugged in and out for it’s entire life.

There are reports of people being able to exchange their lightning cables under warranty, especially if the cable wasn’t mistreated or abused and it’s a defect in the materials. Think about the stress points at the tips of the cable, those tend to fail first because they get the most action.

Now, something to keep in mind – the lightning cable you get in the box when you first buy an iPad (not iPad Pro) or iPhone is linked via a serial number to the iPhone it’s packaged with. The cable has a warranty too and has been exchanged for a new one by several people. Check out the post on Stack Exchange for more details.

Just be sure that the cable you want to exchange has been purchased in the last 12 months and that it’s an official Apple product. They won’t do anything for a 3rd party product that isn’t made by themselves.

Can A Lightning Cable Shock You?

No. A lightning cable is a smart cable. That means no power is actually sent to the tip until the cable recognizes it’s plugged into an Apple device. It’s also very low current and power, even if the tip was energized, it’s doubtful you’ll feel anything at all.

Apple has gone out of it’s way to make sure it’s products are safe.

How Do You Clean A Lighting Cable And Lighting Port?

Because lighting cables are plugged in and out all the time, it’s easy to get dirt and other gunk stuck inside the lightning port or on the pins of the lightning connector.

It’s easy to clean the lightning connector that’s inside your iPad or iPhone with compressed air first and then a tooth pick and some gentle poking to remove left over dirt. Be careful as you can damage the port.

For the lightning connector, use some rubbing alcohol and a paper towel (a microfiber cloth is better). Dampen the paper towel with the rubbing alcohol and gently wipe the lightning connector. Again, be careful here. Not too much pressure.

You should be able to clean the lightning port and lightning connector this way.

Is A USB-C Cable Or A Lightning Cable Better?

There’s a few ways to look at this. The lightning connection is thinner than a USB-C connection, so Apple can make slimmer devices that takes up less room. Also, lightning cables have the pins on the tips, instead of inside the port. If one of the pins on the lightning cable were to fail, you can just buy a new lightning cable. If a pin on a USB-C port were to fail, you would have to replace the entire port.

Having said that, USB-C does feature some substantial benefits:

  • USB-C Can deliver more power than a lightning cable, up to 100Watts. Your device charges faster.
  • USB-C Can deliver more data at faster speeds than a lighting cable – up to 20 times faster. You can import and manipulate large amounts of data fast.

Other big-name manufacturers are already using USB-C as standard like Samsung, LG and Motorola.


Apple’s lightning cable and port are really capable and allow you to expand the functions of an iPad way beyond a media consumption device. You’re able to import and export data, connect cameras, musical keyboards and wired internet connections.

You can find lightning cables pretty much anywhere now – gas stations, grocery stores, even 7-11 sells lightning cables now. They used to be expensive, but they are much cheaper and better quality.

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