It certainly took long enough — it kind of makes you wonder what is it exactly that those people in Brussels do anyway, no? — but what was first expressed as a mere proposal in September 2021 is now agreed upon by all European Union lawmakers: by autumn 2024, every portable electronic device sold in every one of those countries will need to use a USB Type-C port for charging. The agreement — which will become law after approval by both the European Council and European Parliament in September — refers to smartphones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and rechargeable portable speakers. Laptops will also need to use USB-C, but their manufacturers are afforded a 40-month extension to the beginning of 2026.
The aim of the European Commission is to reduce electronic waste and make all these tech products more consumer-friendly by using a common charger instead of proprietary or various different ones. “Under the new rules, consumers will no longer need a different charging device and cable every time they purchase a new device and can use one single charger for all of their small and medium-sized portable electronic devices”, states the official press release. “These new obligations will lead to more re-use of chargers and will help consumers save up to 250 million euro a year on unnecessary charger purchases”. Now, all we have to do is think of how to spend all that extra money. Great!
The press release is strangely optimistic about other things too. “The charging speed is also harmonized for devices that support fast charging”, claims the press release, “allowing users to charge their devices at the same speed with any compatible charger”. Anyone who knows anything about fast charging of portable devices will have a good laugh with this, of course, as “fast charging” is a rather broad term and “harmonization” of charging speeds across product categories simply can’t happen as different devices come with different specs, setting different limits when it comes to charging wattage. But hey, the Brussels people would surely know what they’re talking about, right?
Joking aside, the overall outcome of this mandate will prove to be positive in the fullness of time — even if the tech market itself has obviously been moving faster than EU bureaucracy: almost all portable device manufacturers had already moved to USB-C anyway (some of them even as far back as three or four years ago) and it’s a rare sight to see any new such products still using MicroUSB for some reason. Even Apple has adopted USB-C for the iPad Pro and the latest iPad models, but the Cupertino giant has so far resisted doing the same with its flagship product, the iPhone. Apple executives have gone so far as to criticize the European Commission for this mandate, claiming that “a common charging port stifles competition in the marketplace” (!), which is probably one of the most outrageously laughable notions ever expressed by a tech company. Or any company, for that matter.
What this mandate does do, though, is force Apple to make a choice (which is what Cook and friends did not want in the first place). It’s no secret that the company would very much like for future iPhone models to go completely portless so that it can sell millions and millions of wireless chargers to owners of said iPhones or rake in enormous amounts of money in the form of royalties from third-party accessory manufacturers of such chargers. It’s also pretty much a given — according to several leaks from several sources — that the upcoming iPhone 14 will not be adopting USB-C, even if they probably should by 2022 standards.
So the 2024 iPhone will now have to either go USB-C or go portless, but it’s not clear whether consumers (or even Apple itself) will be ready for such a transition in two years’ time. Chances are that they won’t be — which means that Apple will have to adopt USB-C for 2 or 3 years before going portless, which in turn is something that the company would rather not do for a number of reasons. Manufacturing different iPhone models for the European market and the rest of the world sounds like a very expensive solution to a simple problem, so it will be interesting to see what Apple’s choice on the matter will be. There have been recent rumors making the rounds that the company already testing iPhones with USB-C ports for 2023, so it’s possible that its leaders just decided to play nice with the EU and go USB-C for 4 to 6 years before switching to wireless charging only. Sounds like a plan to us!