iPhone chargers are changing. Don’t expect your hotel to keep up.

iPhone chargers are changing. Don’t expect your hotel to keep up.

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When Apple held its annual product launch Tuesday, one of the most buzzed-about developments was a big change to the iPhone. The new iPhone 15 the company showed off at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters makes the switch to a USB-C charging cable, joining other smartphones and computers, including Apple’s own Macs and iPads.

A day earlier, an editor in town to cover the event showed his hotel was still stuck in the early aughts.

9to5Mac editor in chief Chance Miller took to X (formerly known as Twitter) to post a picture of an iPod charging port featuring the wide, 30-pin charger Apple phased out in 2012, when it introduced the Lightning adapter. “Happy to report that my hotel in Cupertino is ready for the switch to USB-C,” he wrote.

While technology seems to be ever-evolving, hotels just can’t seem to keep up. The new iPhone change might add extra pressure to do so.

A spokesperson for the American Hotel and Lodging Association said in an email that “the hotel industry is constantly evolving to embrace new technology and better serve guests.” But when it comes to investing in new technology, especially in hardware like phone chargers or fancy new TVs, hotels often find themselves caught between desires for innovation and a higher profit.

“Every time something techy comes out, we all hem and haw about what we need to do,” said Peter Ricci, a longtime hotel industry veteran and director of Florida Atlantic University’s hospitality management programs.

Case in point: Ricci said that when he sent the iPhone 15 announcement to the hotel client he advises, “they all laughed.” The client’s first question: “‘How much is that gonna cost me?’”

Hotel owners often decide to upgrade in-room amenities based on whether these investments could help them charge higher average rates. They may splurge on nicer beds or smart TVs, but when it comes to technology like chargers, the return isn’t as clear.

“Many hotels still have super outdated phones and lighting, and until there’s a certain level of guest complaint, there’s no reason to take action,” Ricci said. “Because it doesn’t increase revenue, there’s just not top-of-mind awareness.”

And because virtually all hotels have several outlets in each of their rooms, chargers and charging docks are more common among higher-scale properties or hotels catering to business travelers and tech-savvy, younger clientele.

On Sept. 12, Apple announced its newest phone and watch series. (Video: The Washington Post)

There’s an intrinsic tension between “operators wanting to add as many amenities as possible to make their hotels more attractive and drive a higher top line, and owners wanting to add as few amenities as possible to drive a better bottom line,” according to Chekitan Dev, a professor who teaches brand and marketing management at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

In turn, “hotel amenity innovation is often a slow process, often behind the times,” Dev said in an email. When hotels do choose to update their hardware, what could be called tangible technology investments like smart TVs or Amazon Alexas, it’s often only after gathering evidence proving that these investments would increase customer retention.

When these investments do happen, it’s often luxury and upscale hotels that implement them first. And across hotel types, “the priority will go to VIP rooms or event-facilitated rooms, because those people will care more, regarding the technological support as part of the additional value of staying in a hotel room,” according to Yao-Chin Wang, an assistant professor in the department of tourism, hospitality and event management at the University of Florida.

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The thinking is that those most likely to buy the iPhone 15 as soon as it’s available — 20- or 30-somethings traveling for business — are also more likely to stay at the boutique and lifestyle hotels that will update their technology sooner.

Part of the problem, though, is a hesitance among hotel owners to commit to purchasing new technological hardware only for it to become obsolete in a few years’ time.

“Owners say, ‘Why should I invest in this? Isn’t there going to be a brand-new cellphone company next week?’” Ricci said. “They usually wait for technology to be adopted. Once they see it go macro-level to the population is when they get involved.”

The result is that, as technology continues to advance rapidly, hotels that hold off on buying into the latest tech until it’s past well-established risk getting left behind, offering amenities that might seem archaic by today’s standards, and could frustrate some guests.

Still, there are other, more lasting alternatives for hotels. “Basically every smartphone now has Bluetooth, so if hotels were to provide a simple Bluetooth speaker [or] alarm clock …, that would pretty much obviate the need for a physical connection whatsoever,” said Nicholas De Leon, a senior tech reporter at Consumer Reports.

And if the priority isn’t a speaker so much as a charger, wireless charging pads promise power without the hassle of keeping up to date with wires and adapters. Some hotels, like the Yotel in Miami, have already begun providing their own charging pads at the base of their nightstand lamps, according to Dev.

In a rapidly shifting technological landscape, though, iPhone’s decision to join its contemporaries in the shift to USB-C could mean more stability when it comes to tech hardware. For hotels, this would mean a respite from the need to stay up to date with the countless configurations of charging cables.

Apple’s iPhone was “pretty much the last major holdout that didn’t use USB-C,” De Leon said. “So, if you’re a hotel that wants to provide this sort of speaker [or] alarm clock thing that does include charging, these, too, are readily available, and for not that much.”

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