EU proposes mandatory USB-C on all devices, including iPhones

The European Commission, which is the executive arm the European Union, announced plans to require smartphone manufacturers and other electronic makers to use a common USB C charging port. Apple is most likely to be affected by the proposal, as it continues to use its Lightning connector over the USB-C connector used by many of its competitors. These rules will allow people to reuse existing cables and chargers when purchasing new electronics to reduce electronic waste.
The rules will also apply to smartphones, tablets, headphones and portable speakers. Manufacturers will be required to ensure that their fast-charging standards are compatible and provide information to customers regarding the charging standards of their devices. Customers will be able buy new devices without the need for a charger under the proposal.

The proposals do not cover devices that use wireless chargers but wired ones, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton stated in a press conference. He also said that there is still plenty of innovation potential for wireless.

The revised Radio Equipment Directive proposal must be voted on by the European Parliament before it can become law. Manufacturers will have 24 months to comply with new rules if the proposal is adopted. Today's proposal has broad support because the parliament has already voted for new rules regarding a common charger in 2020.

All our essential electronic devices can be powered by chargers. There are more chargers than ever, and they are often not interchangeable. Thierry Breton, commissioner, stated that we are putting an end this trend. Our proposal will allow European consumers to use one charger to charge all of their electronic devices. This is a significant step in increasing convenience and reducing waste.

Consumers in Europe were already frustrated by the incompatible chargers that were piling up in their drawers for too long. Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president of the European Commission, stated that while we gave industry ample time to find solutions, now is the time for legislation for a common charger.

Are chargers accumulating in a drawer?

We offer a universal charger that can charge mobile phones and similar electronic devices.

One charger is more convenient and reduces electronic waste.

Read more: #DigitalEU European Commission (@EU_Commission) September 23, 2021

While today's proposal focuses on the charging port at the device end of the cable, the Commission states that it hopes to eventually ensure interoperability at both ends. A review will be conducted later in the year to address the power supply end.

These proposals are the result of a vote by the European Parliament in January 2020, when lawmakers voted to create common charger rules. The bloc produced around 12.3 million tons of electronic waste in 2016.

Apple will likely feel the biggest impact from the new rules, as it continues to ship phones using a Lightning connector rather than the more universal USB-C port. According to Reuters' EU assessment, 29 percent of EU-based phone chargers used USB-C. 21 percent used Lightning and half used the older Micro USB standard. These percentages will likely have changed significantly as USB-C has taken over Micro USB on all Android phones, except the most expensive.

At least 2009 saw the signing of a voluntary agreement by Nokia, Samsung, Huawei and Nokia to use the same EU charging standard. Over the years, the industry adopted Micro USB, and more recently, USB-C, as common charging ports. Regulators have stated that this voluntary approach to charging has not met its objectives, even though it reduced the number of standards for charging from more than 30 to three (Micro USB and USB-C)

Apple was an exception in that it did not include a Micro USB port directly on its phones. It offered a Micro USB-to-30 pin adapter instead. It also expressed its opposition to the latest round in attempts to agree on a single standard for charging. Apple released a statement last year stating that new rules could lead to e-waste. People may be forced to discard their Lightning accessories if they are not compatible with the universal standard. This regulation could also stifle innovation and force companies to use current ports.

Apple continues to use Lightning but has taken steps to reduce charger ewaste. Apple stopped shipping charging bricks or headphones in boxes with new iPhones last year and provided them with a Lightning-to-USB-C cable. The move received mixed reactions, with some saying that it was more beneficial for Apple's bottom line than for the environment.

European legislators tend to focus on wired chargers. However, wireless charging is growing in popularity across smartphones. They have largely converged around a single standard, Qi. Rumours have circulated that Apple may ship an iPhone with no Lightning port and rely solely on wireless charging to provide power.

September 23rd at 7:56 AM ET Updated to include Bretons comments from Q&A about wireless chargers