Apple forced to switch to USB-C on iPhones by mid-2024 under EU plans

While Samsung, Sony and others have all long since switched their devices to the USB-C charging cable, Apple is stubbornly sticking to the Lightning connector for its iPhones. That's set to change in 2024, in the EU at least. Critics say a new planned law will stall innovation. — dpa

BRUSSELS: Not long ago, every device manufacturer had their own unique cable for charging. In recent years, the designs of mobile phones, laptops, headphones and tablets have increasingly all adopted the USB-C charging port.

But there’s one major exception: Apple.

The iPhone maker has so far resisted the consensus on USB-C, preferring instead to continue using its proprietary Lightning connector.

However EU states and the European Parliament agreed in June to force manufacturers to switch to uniform charging cables from mid-2024 onwards.

An iPhone 16 with USB-C

In terms of iPhone generations, that means the EU laws would force Apple to ditch the Lightning port for USB-C by the iPhone 16 at the latest (assuming an iPhone 14 appears this year as expected, followed by an iPhone 15 in 2023).

Negotiators from the European Parliament and the 27 EU member states clinched the deal after pushing for companies to make charging equipment for mobile phones and other portable devices more uniform since 2014 with original proposals dating as far back as 2009.

The agreement comes despite industry resistance. Apple in particular has criticised the regulations as hampering innovation. The US tech giant argued the move could cause many existing chargers to be needlessly thrown away.

Under the agreement, USB-C is to become the standard charging socket in the EU. Among the other electronic devices included in the agreement are tablets, e-readers, digital cameras, headphones and headsets and portable speakers.

The regulation also allows consumers to purchase charging equipment and devices separately from one another. A longer phase-in period applies for when the regulations enter into force for laptops.

The EU legislature and the 27 EU member states must now adopt the regulations before their entry into force.

Less ewaste but less innovation?

The idea of the regulation is to cut down on electronic waste and improve consumer satisfaction. The European Commission estimates disposed chargers generate 11,000 tonnes of ewaste every year.

Consumers are also set to benefit because there are fewer cables at home and less money spent on new power supply units with every device.

However while EU countries are working towards finding one charging solution, Apple is thought to be working towards none at all.

The company has long been rumoured to be planning a completely portless iPhone, charging and connecting to devices entirely wirelessly.

Given the MagSafe wireless charging accessories that have flourished with the iPhones 12 and 13 as well as Apple’s longstanding eagerness to remove ports from its devices, the company may well be considering the need for any port at all – Lightning or USB-C.

However the EU law states that any device large enough to house a USB-C port must include one, so consumers in Europe may not be seeing a portless phone for the time being.

Critics meanwhile say that the law is slowing down innovation at a time when inductive, wireless charging is gaining ground. “The EU Parliament and EU states are lagging years behind technical developments,” says Bernhard Rohleder, CEO of Germany’s digital association Bitkom.

Apple, after switching to USB-C for all Macbook laptops a few years ago, now has just brought back its own magnetic Magsafe charging port for the new generation of the MacBook Air.

Its advantage over USB-C is that if you pull hard on it, the cable simply pops off instead of breaking or yanking your MacBook off the table. However elegent solutions like this may become difficult if not impossible if all devices must use USB-C.

Keyboards, ereaders, smartwatches

The EU Commission had initially proposed that six categories of devices should fall under the new rules. Besides smartphones, these were tablets, headphones, speakers, portable game consoles and cameras.

In the negotiations, the Parliament also managed to get laptops, ereaders, keyboards and computer mice, navigation systems, smartwatches and electric toys to be included.

However the law again stipulates that the devices must be large enough for a corresponding connection. That means some smartwatches may be able to continue using wireless charging pads as their only charging mechanism.

So will consumers still get a new USB-C cable with every new electrical device? Not necessarily.

Consumers should be able to buy the device independently of the charger and cable. That means you’ll be able to decide whether you need the additional cable or not.

After four years, the benefit is to be reviewed, and if necessary, the separate sale of chargers could even become mandatory.

However the latest generation of charger has become a desireable commodity in recent years, as manufacturers find ways to charge phones increasingly faster. This means that to charge a phone at the highest speed made possible by a new smartphone model, you may still need a new charging brick with a higher wattage, while the same USB-C cable itself remains reusable.

And what about a standard for wireless charging?

The EU Parliament actually wanted to tackle this as well. The European Commission will now also take measures leading to a standard for wireless charging, according to Anna Cavazzini, who chaired the last round of negotiations.

She said two years had been set aside for this. EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stressed that the standards now agreed could also be adapted depending on technological developments. – dpa

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