Apple Not Happy, As Europe Insists On Common Charger

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A decade late and the end for lightning cables? Apple will be forced to install USB-C ports on all its devices sold in the EC

The European Commission has (as expected) presented its directive for a common charging port for mobile phones, tablets and headphones sold in the bloc.

The European Commission announcement is being touted as “an important step against e-waste and consumer inconvenience, caused by the prevalence of different, incompatible chargers for electronic devices.”

However Apple, which is the one phone manufacturer likely to be impacted the most, has made clear its displeasure with the move, despite it being on the cards for the best part of a decade now.

EC directive

The European Commission on Thursday signalled is not backing down over this matter.

“Years of working with industry on a voluntary approach already brought down the number of mobile phone chargers from 30 to 3 within the last decade, but could not deliver a complete solution,” noted the EC.

“The Commission is now putting forward legislation to establish a common charging solution for all relevant devices.”

“With today’s proposal for a revised Radio Equipment Directive, the charging port and fast charging technology will be harmonised: USB-C will become the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles,” it said.

The Commission also said it proposes to unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices.

“European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers,” said Margrethe Vestager, executive VP for a Europe fit for the Digital Age. “We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger. This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions.”

Essentially the EU is proposing a harmonised charging port for electronic devices: USB-C will be the common port.

It is also proposing harmonised fast charging technology; and unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device (although this currently happens anyway).

Apple objection

So the directive seeks to impose the use of USB-C ports, currently used by Android phones, for all devices.

This would of course would force Apple devices, which use lightning cables, to provide USB-C ports on its devices in EU countries.

And the EC is proposing that once the law comes into force, there will be a transitional period of two years during which manufacturers must switch their devices to the common standard.

Apple, is therefore, not overly happy at the move.

Indeed in January 2020 Apple warned regulators that losing its Lightning port will add to e-waste mountain.

And today it further signalled its displeasure at the EC move.

“We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world,” Apple was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying in a statement.

It also expressed concerns about the two-year transition period for companies to comply.

Agreed standard

This issue of a universal (or common) charger has been hanging around over a decade now, after the majority of smartphone manufacturers (including Apple) adopted the voluntary MicroUSB standard back in 2009.

The final micro-USB design charger was officially agreed in 2010 with ten mobile phone makers including Apple, Samsung, Huawei and Nokia, so that they could standardise their chargers for new models of smartphones coming into the market in 2011.

In 2014, the European Parliament gave its formal support for an universal charger for smartphones, tablets and other portable electronics.

Apple however had already introduced its 8 pin Lightning connector in September 2012 (with the iPhone 5) to save space on its previous 30 pin connector design.

And the iPad maker took advantage of a loophole in the European Union 2010 agreement (it was only a voluntary memorandum of understanding) to carry on using its Lightning connector.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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