It’s been a long time coming — probably way too long — but it’s now official: the European Union intends to force tech product manufacturers into using a common USB-C charging port for all of their devices. This was announced today as one of the measures the European Commission is taking in order to cut down on electronic waste, encouraging people to re-use existing chargers and cables when they buy new products such as smartphones, tablets headphones, portable speakers, video and photo cameras, even videogame systems and controllers.
In the same proposal to be put on vote soon, tech product manufacturers are also forced to make their fast-charging standards “interoperable” (they already are in most cases) and to provide information to customers about what charging standards those products support. European consumers “will be able to buy” new devices without an included charger, meaning that they may or may not be given the option. Apple and Samsung have already stopped including chargers with their smartphones.
The European Commission’s proposals only cover devices using wired, not wireless, chargers. EU commissioner Thierry Breton claimed that “there is plenty of room for innovation on wireless”, which is largely true. “Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices”, Breton added. “With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or necessary. We are putting an end to that”. The commissioner added that through this proposal “European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics, an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste”.
“European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers. We gave the tech industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger”, European Commission executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager added. She noted that should the proposals pass the vote in the European Parliament, manufacturers will have 24 months at most to comply with these new directives — so, by the end of 2023 at the latest.
People following the evolution of the smartphones, tablets, and general portable devices categories are obviously aware of the fact that most manufacturers have practically adopted USB-C already — the main difference between their implementations has to do with the fast charging speeds their products support more than anything else. The European Commission’s proposals are essentially making the transition official (and obligatory).
The one manufacturer that did not follow the trend of USB-C adoption of years past is, of course, Apple with its iPhone line of smartphones. The Americans now use a USB-C port for almost all of their iPad tablets, but they stuck with the Lightning port for all the iPhone models because of the large, lucrative ecosystem built around that connector despite its shortcomings. Apple will now have to either change its plans and adopt USB-C by the time the iPhone 15 comes out… or go completely cable-free with all iPhone models by fall 2023 (which many believe is Apple’s actual plan).
For the time being, though, it seems that the European Commission’s plan is not to Apple’s liking. The Cupertino giant strongly objected to the proposals being passed into law by the European Parliament, releasing the following statement: “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”. One would think that the Lightning connector would not make a good example of “innovation” in late 2021, but… yeah. The company also expressed concerns about the two-year transition period the EU forces on manufacturers.
Regardless of Apple’s objections on the matter, it seems that the aforementioned proposals will be broadly supported by the European Parliament and voted into law before the year is out. So it will be interesting to see how that changes Apple’s plans moving forward. Of course, it may turn out that Apple is not the only smartphone manufacturer planning to go port-free in the next two years: wireless charging speeds are constantly increasing — we are at 15 Watts for most flagships nowadays, roughly on par with what iPhones offered via cable just a few short years ago — and it’s possible that new tech will soon allow for higher speeds, acceptable for everyday use. Samsung and Xiaomi are thought to be working towards portless smartphone models, for instance, so others may follow. So, as far as smartphones, in particular, are concerned, even USB-C might become irrelevant sooner rather than later. Good thing that politicians are great at identifying and solving problems quickly, though, eh?