Apple Cautions EU About Common Charger Push

Apple has responded to the European Union as it seeks to renew its push for a common or universal charger for electronic devices.

Apple warned that losing its Lightning port would add to the e-waste mountain and would “hamper innovation” as well as “irk consumers.”

For years now the EU has been pressuring smartphone makers to standardise on one universal charger design to put an end to charger clutter, and reduce thousands of tons of electronic waste yearly from old chargers.

Lightning connector

At the moment, smartphone chargers are effectively split into the Android or Apple camp.

The majority of smartphones and tablets are powered by USB-C connectors, but others such as Apple use the Lightning proprietary connector for their devices.

This is despite the fact that the majority of smartphone manufacturers (including Apple) adopted the 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 agreement (it was only a voluntary memorandum of understanding) to carry on using its Lightning connector.

Apple pushback

Last week lawmakers at the European Parliament called for a common charger for all mobile phones, and amended a draft law to say the ability to work with common chargers would be an essential requirement for radio equipment in the EU.

But Apple has cautioned against the move.

“We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole,” Apple was quoted by Reuters as saying in a statement.

Apple said regulation was not needed as the industry is already moving to USB-C through a connector or cable assembly.

“We hope the (European) Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry’s ability to innovate,” Apple reportedly said.

A study by Copenhagen Economics (commissioned by Apple) reportedly showed that consumer harm from a regulatory-mandated move to a common charger would cost at least 1.5 billion euros, outweighing the 13 million euros in associated environmental benefits.

EU Intentions

Apple could be on a collision course with the European Commission, which has been pushing for a common charger for more than a decade.

It feels the voluntary approach is not working and it is time to look into legislation.

“A delegated act based on the Radio Equipment Directive (RED) is one of the options to be considered since it empowers the Commission to take certain type of regulatory measures in this field,” EU officials were quoted by Reuters as saying.

Another option was to pass legislation on the issue.

“…given the limitation in the scope of RED and of its empowerment, any action through ordinary legislative procedure and/or through other instruments, such as implementing measures under the Eco-design Directive should be further explored and thoroughly assessed,” the official said.

The Commission will reportedly publish a study around the end of the month or early February on the impact of a common charger.

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Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • Think Apple meant harm its walled garden monopoly! No more excuses Apple the world can no longer tolerate your arrogant attitude.

    While at it the EU could make it illegal not to make the batteries in phones/tablets or any other consumer equipment 'non-replaceable' by the user and all designs should allow easy 3rd party replacement of parts such as screens..

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