The European Commission announced on Thursday (23 September) its long-awaited plans to make USB-C the standard charging port for all smartphones, tablets, and other small electronic devices – forcing Apple to redesign one of its best-selling products, the iPhone.
More than a decade ago, when there were more than 30 different types of chargers in the market, the EU urged phone manufacturers to agree on a common standard for smartphone chargers. Most of them did, but not all.
Today there are still three charger types – USB 2.0 Micro B, USB-C and Apple’s Lightning.
“European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers,” said the EU commissioner in charge of digital policy, Margrethe Vestager.
But manufacturers of smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld video game consoles sold in the EU will now be forced to have USB-C charging ports. They will also have to make their fast-charging interoperable.
The aim is to reduce the environmental footprint associated with their production, enabling consumers to reuse chargers when buying a new device.
Under the commission proposal, consumers will also be able to purchase a new electronic device without a new charger.
Electronic chargers have been estimated to produce more than 51,000 metric tons of ‘e-waste’ per year in the EU, where the total such waste generated in 2016 was 12.3 million metric tonnes – an equivalent to 16.6 kg on average per inhabitant.
According to the commission, the new proposal could help consumers save €250m a year, reducing e-waste by almost a thousand tonnes yearly.
“This is an important win for our consumers and environment,” said Vestager.
Other products like e-readers or smart-watches were not considered, for technical reasons linked to their size or use conditions. Wireless chargers have also been left out of the scope of the reevaluation.
The proposal will potentially have the biggest impact on Apple – because the company has been trying to keep its own port connector since it launched the first iPhone back in 2007.
“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,” the company responded in a statement.
However, some Apple devices currently have USB C, such as the iPad Pro or MacBook Air. The tech giant previously argued that such legislation would in the short-term create “an unprecedented volume of electronic waste”.
The EU commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, stressed the proposal is not aimed at any one operator – arguing that companies could choose to redesign their devices to have an additional port beside the USB C.
“If Apple wants to continue to have their own plug, they will have the ability to do it. It’s not against innovation, it’s just to make the lives of our fellow citizens a little bit easier,” Breton told reporters at a press briefing.
According to an EU Commission study, half of the chargers sold in the EU in 2018 had a USB micro-B port, while 29 percent had a USB C connector and 21 percent a Lightning connector.
Although a consumer, on average, owns around three mobile phone chargers, 38 percent of people report being unable to charge their mobile phone at least once because the chargers available were incompatible.
USB-C chargers are expected to become mandatory in 2024 or even later.
Both MEPs and member states will have to green-light the proposal.