Apple is reportedly preparing a new Lightning receptacle for third-party accessories, paving the way for USB-free battery packs and Lightning-based headphones.

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As 9to5Mac reports, Apple briefed accessory makers on its plans during a conference in China last week. The receptacle should be in accessory makers' hands early next year.

One obvious application for the new connection would be for battery cases such as the Mophie Juice Pack. Currently, iPhone users must charge these accessories with a separate MicroUSB cable. With a Lightning receptacle, users could just plug in the same Lightning cable that they already use to charge their phones. Mophie's Android phone cases already work this way with standard USB cables, so users can charge both the phone and the battery pack at the same time.

A Lightning receptacle could also come in handy for Bluetooth headphones. Users would be able to charge up without a separate cable, adding convenience and bringing costs down for headphone makers. We could also see headphones that use a Lightning connection instead of a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack for superior audio quality or active noise cancellation, though this could require a reversible Lightning cable that doesn't exist yet.

9to5Mac also reports that Apple is shipping a slimmer Lightning connector for accessories. It's not something that users will notice, as it only affects the housing for docks, cases and other accessories, but it should make Lightning-powered accessories a little less bulky overall.

Why this matters: Apple's use of proprietary cables over standard USB has always been somewhat contentious. While the slim, fully reversible Lightning cable is convenient for charging iOS devices, it has also limited the possibilities for accessory makers as they need to rely on additional cables. It looks like Apple will be rectifying the situation in the coming months.