The European Commission wants to make USB-C the standard charging port for portable devices in the European Union in an anti-waste initiative that could irk US tech giant Apple in particular.
Under a long-awaited legal commission proposal unveiled on Thursday, the already widespread USB-C would be the go-to for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld video game consoles.
However, Apple is unlikely to be including a USB-C port in upcoming iPhones as they adopt wireless charging technologies faster than the EU bureaucratic machine can churn out regulation, commentators suggest.
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the move was an “important win for our consumers and environment”.
“European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers. We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now the time is ripe for legislative action.”
EU members and the European Parliament also need to sign off on the rules, which could take years.
European Commissioner Thierry Breton indicated on Thursday that the rules could be imposed in 2024 at the very earliest, with some suggesting it could be years later before companies are forced to comply.
So we shouldn’t expect the iPhone 14, 15, or 18 to include a USB-C port.
And some Apple devices that currently use the Lightning connector are not covered in this week’s proposal, such as their Magic Mouse, Trackpads, or AirPods.
What’s more, Apple currently charges a licensing fee for the sale of third-party cables or accessories that use the Lightning connector, making the technology profitable for the US company.
However, industry commentators have suggested that once the rules come into effect, Apple will have moved on from the Lighting connector in favour of port-less iPhones with exclusively wireless charging.
All new Apple iPhones include MagSafe charging capabilities, which is Apple’s proprietary wireless charging technology.
They have also been backwards compatible with industry standard Qi wireless charging for years.
“Don’t fret, your Lightning cables and accessories aren’t going anywhere,” US tech journalist Michael Simon wrote in MacWorld.
“And by the time Apple moves on, it won’t be because it’s forced, it’ll be because it’s ready.”
Apple has argued consistently that mandatory rules would hamper innovation and potentially cause many existing products to be needlessly thrown away.
Breton denied on Thursday that the new rules would slow innovation.
“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 more easy,” Breton said at the press briefing, adding that device makers could still put two different ports on their phones if they want.
On Thursday, the California-based firm said in a written statement it looked forward to working with the commission and other stakeholders on the proposal.
However, Apple “remains 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 EU executive branch has been pushing for over a decade for companies like Apple, Samsung and Sony to develop interoperable chargers for mobile phones and other portable devices.
Momentum built shortly after Ursula von der Leyen took office as commission president in late 2019 but the coronavirus pandemic pushed the topic off the agenda.
In 2009, 14 major manufacturers signed a voluntary agreement to that effect.
Despite progress, the market remained highly fragmented.
About 12.3 million tonnes of electronic waste – 16.6 kilograms per inhabitant – were produced in Europe in 2016, the European Parliament said last year in a resolution calling on the commission to take action on chargers.