The EU Wants All Phones to Work With Interoperable Chargers, Here’s What That Means for Apple's Lightning Port

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Despite pushback from Apple, the European Parliament in January voted overwhelmingly for new rules to establish a common charging standard for mobile device makers across the European Union. This article explores what form the EU laws might ultimately take and how they could affect Apple device users in Europe and elsewhere.


What Exactly is the EU Calling For?

To reduce cost, electronic waste and make consumers' lives easier, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) want "binding measures" that ensure chargers fit all smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices.

According to a 2019 impact assessment study on common chargers of portable devices conducted by the EU, almost a fifth of people surveyed reported having faced "significant issues" because of non-standard chargers. Such issues included incompatible chargers between devices, variable charging speeds between different chargers, and having to have several chargers available to cover all needs.

In addition, the EU claims that by agreeing on a common charger standard, it will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tons of electronic waste annually.

The recent 582-40 parliamentary vote in favor of a common charging standard came about because the European Commission's previous approach of merely "encouraging" tech companies to develop a standardized solution "fell short of the co-legislators' objectives," according to a briefing on the European Parliament website.


How Did the EC's Earlier Approach Play Out?

The European Commission's efforts to establish a common charging standard for smartphones span more than a decade. In 2009, the EC estimated that 500 million mobile phones were in use in all EU countries. It found that the chargers used often varied according to the manufacturer and model, and that more than 30 different types of chargers were on the market.

In a bid to harmonize standards, the EC negotiated a 2009 Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by 14 tech companies including Apple, Samsung, Nokia, and other prominent smartphone manufacturers.

According to the MoU, phone makers agreed to adopt a micro-USB connector standard for smartphone chargers in the European Union that would allow full charging compatibility with mobile phones to be placed on the market.

The plan was for new phones to be sold with micro-USB chargers for a period of time, after which phones and chargers would be sold separately in order to allow customers who already owned chargers to continue using their existing ones.

There was considerable speculation about whether Apple would be able to meet the requirements of the micro-USB standard. At the time, Apple used a proprietary 30-pin dock connector compatible with both the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

However, the wording of the MoU offered Apple a loophole: For those phones that did not have a USB micro-B interface, an adapter was allowed under the agreed terms. And that's exactly what Apple did. In 2012, Apple introduced the iPhone 5 with a new Lightning proprietary connector to replace its 30-pin connector, and additionally offered a separate Lightning to micro USB adapter to comply with the 2009 EU agreement.

Apple's micro-USB to Lightning adapter

Consequently, Apple ultimately wasn't required to abandon its proprietary connector or include a separate micro-USB interface directly on the device for charging purposes.

Why Was the 2009 MoU Considered a Failure?

A progress report provided by the MoU signatories in February 2013 indicated that 90 percent of the new devices placed on the market by the signatories and other manufacturers by the end of 2012 supported the common charging capability. But that statistic was so high only because it took into account the fact that Apple offered a Lightning to micro-USB adapter.

One member of the Commission would note: "The perception among the citizens and the European Parliament is that the common charger does not really exist, and looking at what we find among the most popular smartphones, we have to agree with them. The future MoU must be clear in its outcome, we cannot afford to admit adaptors."

The lack of progress frustrated the Commission, and in 2014, the European parliament passed the Radio Equipment Directive, which called for a "renewed effort to develop a common charger." The directive gave the commission the power to directly set technical standards by means of a delegated act - in this case, a legislative act implementing EU rules.

By 2016, the Commission acknowledged that micro-USB had become dated and that USB-C had become the de facto standard across most devices. The Commission was advised by MoU facilitators that all manufacturers were ready to sign a new agreement in line with different approaches but keeping the solution of using solely USB-C connectors - except Apple.


Why is Apple Against the Idea of a Common Charger?

In 2016, Apple supported the adoption of USB-C as a standardized interface at the power source (i.e. the charging plug), but remained against conforming to a standard on devices themselves. The company argued that conforming to a device-side standard would cost it up to EUR2 billion and hamper innovation, largely based on the claim that iPhones were too thin to house a USB-C port.

Apple even commissioned a study by Copenhagen Economics outlining the potential consumer harm from a mandatory move towards a common charger.

The study concluded that it would cost consumers EUR1.5 billion if common charger rules became law, outweighing the EUR13 million associated with environmental benefits. The study also claimed that 49 percent of EU households rely on different types of chargers, but only 0.4 percent of those households experience any significant issues.

Apple's stance on the issue left the Commission deadlocked, but in 2018 the Commission agreed to continue working with manufacturers in order to achieve a suitable voluntary agreement. However, a year later the Commission concluded that its previous voluntary approach and the new MoU still allowed manufacturers to use adaptors with proprietary solutions and would not result in full charger harmonization.


Where Does the EU Go From Here?

In response to the Commission's 2019 impact assessment on common chargers, Apple said regulations that would force all smartphones to have the same charging port would "freeze innovation," be "bad for the environment," and be "unnecessarily disruptive for customers."
More than 1 billion Apple devices have shipped using a Lightning connector in addition to an entire ecosystem of accessory and device manufacturers who use Lightning to serve our collective customers. We want to ensure that any new legislation will not result in the shipment of any unnecessary cables or external adaptors with every device, or render obsolete the devices and accessories used by many millions of Europeans and hundreds of millions of Apple customers worldwide. This would result in an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconvenience users. To be forced to disrupt this huge market of customers will have consequences far beyond the stated aims of the Commission.
The EU parliament's January 2020 vote on the matter was overwhelmingly in favor of bringing in rules to standardize chargers, but the manner in which it plans to enforce them is anything but clear. The Commission's impact assessment laid out several possible options for the proposed legislation:

  • Option 0: Cables can have either a USB-C or a proprietary connector at the device end, and adapters continue to be available for purchase (the current status quo).
  • Option 1: Cables must have a USB-C port at the device end (effectively outlawing Apple's Lightning connector).
  • Option 2: Cables must have a USB-C port at the device end, or any manufacturers that wish to use a proprietary port on their device must include an adapter from USB-C to the proprietary connector (in Apple's case, a USB-C to Lightning adapter) plus a USB-C AC power plug.
  • Option 3: Cables can have either a USB-C or a proprietary connector at the device end. Manufacturers that choose to use a proprietary connector must include a USB-C AC power plug in the box (Apple provides a USB-C AC power plug, but the iPhone can continue to have a Lightning connector).
  • Option 4: All connectors at both the device-end and on the AC power plug must have USB-C interoperability (Apple must make USB-C chargers).
  • Option 5: All connectors at the device-end must be USB-C and manufacturers must include a new fast-charging 15W+ AC power plug (Apple must make a USB-PD-compliant power plug).
In considering wireless charging as a potential solution, the Commission concluded that it was an "incipient technology" with around 60 percent energy efficiency, whereas wired technologies are close to 100 percent efficiency.


Overall, the Commission's impact assessment suggests the most effective approach would be to pursue option 1 (common connectors) in combination with option 4 (interoperable external power supply). If the Commission were to go with this recommendation, Apple would no longer be able to make new mobile devices that use its proprietary Lightning connector. But whether the Commission accepts the recommendation of its impact assessment and enshrines it in EU law remains to be seen.

Can the Initiative Work?

The EU initiative aims to limit fragmentation of the charging solutions on the market without hampering future technological innovation. By standardizing chargers, it hopes to lower prices and increase quality, therefore reducing the presence of counterfeit chargers and increasing user safety.

It also expects a reduction/minimization of e-waste, by reducing the necessity to purchase different types of chargers and by giving the possibility to reuse already owned ones. This would also increase consumer convenience, argues the impact assessment, since users would be able to charge not only mobile phones "but potentially also other portable devices with a common cable (and charger), as well as being offered the option of retaining existing chargers and purchasing mobile phones without chargers for a lower price."


It is unknown whether any changes Apple might have to make to comply with the European regulations will also be made in other markets around the world, for financial or practical reasons. Regardless, however the proposed legislation plays out, all the signs are that Apple's stance will remain firm and it will continue to lobby against the EU's intention to regulate the market.

"We do not believe there is a case for regulation given the industry is already moving to the use of USB Type-C through a connector or cable assembly," said Apple following the recent parliamentary vote. "This includes Apple's USB-C power adapter which is compatible with all iPhone and iPad devices. This approach is more affordable and convenient for consumers, enables charging for a wide range of portable electronic products, encourages people to re-use their charger and allows for innovation."

Article Link: The EU Wants All Phones to Work With Interoperable Chargers, Here's What That Means for Apple's Lightning Port
 

zorinlynx

macrumors 603
May 31, 2007
5,815
7,440
Florida, USA
It'd be nice if the EU regulations would ban having wireless charging as the only option. This is something idiotic that Apple would likely try to do eventually, given their obsession with eliminating wires. While wireless charging is convenient, it's also inefficient and should never be the ONLY option. Imagine charging with a portable power bank and losing almost half the energy as heat because you can only charge wirelessly.
 

farewelwilliams

macrumors 68030
Jun 18, 2014
2,533
10,814
It'd be nice if the EU regulations would ban having wireless charging as the only option. This is something idiotic that Apple would likely try to do eventually, given their obsession with eliminating wires. While wireless charging is convenient, it's also inefficient and should never be the ONLY option. Imagine charging with a portable power bank and losing almost half the energy as heat because you can only charge wirelessly.
all you're doing is hindering wireless charging innovation. you assume Apple would simply offer the current implementation as the only option
 

bbednarz

macrumors 65816
Nov 16, 2017
1,304
3,249
Chicago
Right?? How DARE they try to reduce e-waste, make charging cables universal and make the customer experience better in one FOUL swoop. The NERVE OF IT!
This does not reduce e-waste. The same number of cords are still in circulation.. Only now there will be tons and tons of lightning cords and devices (treadmills, ellipticals, etc) that are now obsolete.
 

brucewayne

macrumors regular
Nov 8, 2005
144
171
Apple's argument is both reasonable and unreasonable at the same time.

They are absolutely correct in that forcing one standard will stifle innovation. Can you imagine if we were all stuck with micro USB in 2020 waiting for the EU to approve a better standard? While USB-C is pretty flexible, do we think it will be cutting edge 10 years from now? They should be able to control their own product.

Their other argument (waste) is idiotic. Apple changes connectors all the time. What happened when they moved from 30-pin to Lightning? From magsafe to USB-C? From lightning to USB-C (iPad Pro)? From every style port to USB-C (macbooks). Each time they move volume buttons or change the shape/size of an iPhone or iPad.

So when someone upgrades, the case/charger/accessories/smart keyboards/dongles move to the next owner (if sold/traded in), get lost in a junk drawer somewhere, get recycled, or end up in a landfill. This process doesn't change if the EU forces a new standard.

Edit - this is one of many junk drawers of cables and dongles that no longer fit or do not work well with (like 5W chargers) current generation Apple products.
 

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Krevnik

macrumors 68040
Sep 8, 2003
3,435
742
Right?? How DARE they try to reduce e-waste, make charging cables universal and make the customer experience better in one FOUL swoop. The NERVE OF IT!
My beef with this is more that it seems to outline what the solution should be and having an option picked and then rolled into actual legislation. If the legislation was the creation of a mandatory standards body that is given the control required to to sort out the details, be petitioned by the industry when changes occur, etc. It would make more sense to me.

It'd be as if we rolled "all broadcasts must be NTSC" into a bill rather than giving the FCC authority to handle picking the broadcast spec, and then had to revisit it in a deadlocked Congress down the road when ATSC showed up.

Apple's argument is both reasonable and unreasonable at the same time.

They are absolutely correct in that forcing one standard will stifle innovation. Can you imagine if we were all stuck with micro USB in 2020 waiting for the EU to approve a better standard? While USB-C is pretty flexible, do we think it will be cutting edge 10 years from now? They should be able to control their own product.
Yeah, this exactly.
 

jayducharme

macrumors 68040
Jun 22, 2006
3,471
3,080
The thick of it
Can you imagine if we were all stuck with micro USB in 2020 waiting for the EU to approve a better standard? While USB-C is pretty flexible, do we think it will be cutting edge 10 years from now?
And that's really the important point Apple is making. Given how slowly most government agencies react to changes, tech certainly would be hampered. What if Apple came up with a magnetic charging solution like MagSafe, but with completely flush-mount? That would be amazing, yet the EU wouldn't allow it without years of deliberation.

Government intervention is useful in certain industries, but in this case l think they should allow the market to run its course.
 

Johnny Steps

macrumors 6502
Jun 29, 2011
442
200
I wish Apple would just be honest and admit they don’t want to change because they want to have crap their own way. Sucks to suck. I’m glad they’re trying to push for a common port on all devices. Literally my iPhone is the only thing I have to carry an extra cable for. That’s a problem.

I swear, the only reason I’m still with an iPhone is because of the whole blue vs green messages nonsense.
 

Macropanda

macrumors newbie
Oct 21, 2014
9
19
I just don’t get why Apple don’t just adopt it anyway.
Customers will be able to travel just one single cable. Surely that’s a good selling point? One charger, one cable.... all your Apple devices.

Why in 2019 they are selling an iPhone pro that has lightning with max USB 2.0 speed while also advertising 4K video is beyond me. You can record 10s of GBs of data yet it takes hours to get it off the phone.
 

Konigi

macrumors regular
Jan 24, 2017
182
291
Montréal, Québec
It seems pretty short-sighted to suggest having a common connector would result in "unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconvenience users". Any change in technology brings that kind of inconvenience (think of when Apple switched from the 30-pin connector to the Lightening one) but in the long run it turns out to be better for customers and the environment, especially when we use them for many years and that we eventually buy a new one. In 5-8 years, it's going to be so simple.

A grandfather clause (for existing products on the market) would solve most of the issues too. I'm sure it's already included.

Why don't Apple just make the switch already. Their fan base has been asking for USB-C for years across all devices. It's really simple.
 

dz5b609

macrumors regular
Mar 22, 2019
109
183
Yeah, they want to take our freedom away to have two chargers in our backpack instead of one. Those bastards!

(Would love to have the option to charge my phone while at work with the Macbook-charger.)
Right?? How DARE they try to reduce e-waste, make charging cables universal and make the customer experience better in one FOUL swoop. The NERVE OF IT!
And then they adopt micro-usb as the standard because of legacy support, or wait 20 years before approving the successor to usb-c when the time comes. This will just get in the way of any innovation, EU demanding things is (almost) never a good thing.
 

cmaier

macrumors P6
Jul 25, 2007
16,093
12,376
California
I wish Apple would just be honest and admit they don’t want to change because they want to have crap their own way. Sucks to suck. I’m glad they’re trying to push for a common port on all devices. Literally my iPhone is the only thing I have to carry an extra cable for. That’s a problem.

I swear, the only reason I’m still with an iPhone is because of the whole blue vs green messages nonsense.
They’ve admitted it. They want to be able to have things their own way - if they decide that the best iphone is an iphone with no ports, they don’t want to be stuck making ones with ports for the EU. If they decide that some new connector is fantastic, they don’t want to be prevented from innovating.

That’s what the EU is doing here - they are locking technology to what it is currently and preventing future innovations. They started dicking with this ten years ago. You can bet that when apple comes out with the next great thing in the Americas and Asia, it will take the EU politicians 10 years to update their law to allow out.
- - Post merged: - -

Why don't Apple just make the switch already. Their fan base has been asking for USB-C for years across all devices. It's really simple.
No they haven’t. Many of us prefer lightning because it is more reliable (doesn’t get loose), smaller, and easier to insert.
 
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