The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has announced plans to require smartphone and other electronics manufacturers to include a common USB-C charging port on their devices. The proposal is most likely to affect Apple, which continues to use its proprietary Lightning connector rather than the USB-C connector used by the majority of its competitors. The rules are intended to reduce electronic waste by allowing people to reuse old chargers and cables when purchasing new electronics.
The rules will also apply to tablets, headphones, portable speakers, videogame consoles, and cameras, in addition to phones. Manufacturers will also be required to make their fast-charging standards interoperable, as well as provide customers with information about which charging standards their device supports. Customers will be able to purchase new devices without a charger as part of the proposal.
According to EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, the proposals only cover devices that use wired chargers, not wireless chargers, and that “there is plenty of room for innovation on wireless.” A Commission spokesperson later confirmed to The Verge that a USB-C port is only required for devices that charge via cable. However, if a device only charges wirelessly, such as Apple’s rumored portless iPhone, a USB-C charging port is not required.
The revised Radio Equipment Directive proposal must be approved by the European Parliament in order to become law. Manufacturers will eventually have 24 months to comply with the new rules if they are adopted. The parliament has already voted in favor of new rules on a common charger for early 2020, indicating that today’s proposal should be well received.
“Chargers provide power to all of our most important electronic devices. With the proliferation of devices comes an increase in the number of chargers that are either non-interchangeable or unnecessary. “We’re putting an end to it,” said commissioner Thierry Breton. “With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all of their portable electronics, which is a significant step toward increasing convenience and reducing waste.”
“European consumers have long been frustrated by the accumulation of incompatible chargers in their drawers. We gave industry plenty of time to develop their own solutions, and now the time has come for legislative action to establish a common charger,” said European Commission executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager.
Today’s proposal focuses on the charging port on the device end, but the Commission says it hopes to achieve “full interoperability” on both ends of the cable in the future. The power supply end of things will be addressed in a review that will be released later this year.
The proposals come after a vote in the European Parliament in January 2020 on new rules for common chargers. In 2016, the total amount of electronic waste produced across the EU was approximately 12.3 million metric tons.
The new rules are likely to have the greatest impact on Apple, which continues to ship phones with a Lightning connector rather than the increasingly common USB-C port. According to an EU assessment reported by Reuters, around 29 percent of phone chargers sold in the EU in 2018 used USB-C, 21 percent used Lightning, and roughly half used the older Micro USB standard. These ratios are likely to have shifted significantly now that USB-C has replaced Micro USB in all but the most inexpensive Android phones.
Attempts to get smartphone manufacturers in the EU to use the same charging standard date back at least to 2009, when Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and Nokia signed a voluntary agreement to use a common standard. In the years since, the industry has gradually adopted Micro USB and, more recently, USB-C as a standard charging port. Despite the fact that the number of charging standards has been reduced from over 30 to just three (Micro USB, USB-C, and Lightning), regulators have stated that this voluntary approach has fallen short of its goals.
Apple was an outlier in that it never directly included a Micro USB port on its phones. It instead provided a Micro USB to 30-pin adapter.
In a statement, Apple stated that it disagreed with today’s proposals. “We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating only one type of connector stifles rather than encourages innovation, which will harm consumers in Europe and around the world,” a company spokesperson told Reuters. The company has previously objected to the proposals, claiming that they risk creating e-waste by forcing people to discard existing Lightning accessories that are incompatible with the universal standard.
Apple has made its own efforts to reduce charger e-waste, despite continuing to use Lightning. It stopped including charging bricks or earbuds in the box with new iPhones last year, instead providing them with only a Lightning to USB-C cable. However, the move elicited mixed reactions, with some claiming that it benefited Apple’s bottom line more than the environment.
While European legislators are primarily concerned with wired chargers, wireless charging is becoming increasingly popular on smartphones and has largely converged on a single cross-platform standard: Qi. There have even been rumors that Apple may release an iPhone without a Lightning port, relying solely on wireless charging for power.