EU harmonizing fast charging with USB PD will be a big deal for Android
For those that don’t know, European lawmakers reached an agreement earlier this week to force manufacturers of electronic devices including smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, and more to use the same universal charging port — USB-C. That’s right, USB-C everything is being written into the law and it’ll come into effect by Fall 2024 in the EU. Settling for a common USB-C charger will not only cut down on e-waste but it will also make our lives easier. The benefits of using a single charger with a USB-C to C cable for all the gadgets can’t be understated.
As somebody who uses an Android phone along with a couple of other gadgets that already use the same USB-C port for charging, I am more interested in the part of the legislation that harmonizes fast charging standards with USB PD. This is something that got missed in the main coverage, even though it might be the bigger news for the Android ecosystem. Even if you take Apple out of the equation for lagging behind its competitors in the fast charging department, you can’t ignore the disparity in charging speeds between some Android flagships too. But how is the EU agreeing to make USB PD more commonplace going to fix our fast charging woes? Let’s try to make sense of this.
We have reached a deal on the common charger! 🔌👏
✔️mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, digital cameras & more #USBtypeC
✔️harmonised fast-charging technology
✔️unbundling of sale of chargers from the sale of device
— IMCO Committee Press (@EP_SingleMarket) June 7, 2022
Harmonizing fast charging with USB PD
Before we begin, it’s worth pointing out that the legislation doesn’t prevent manufacturers from creating their own proprietary fast charging standards. This means that manufacturers including OPPO, Xiaomi, and Huawei can continue to push the boundaries with their proprietary charging methods. What the EU agreement does is that it induces an element of harmony: you can do this as long as you also support USB Power Delivery. The agreement mentions compliance with EN IEC 62680-1 and its subsections, essentially referring to USB Power Delivery Specification, Revision 3.0, Version 2.0 (i.e. support up to 100W).
From our reading of the EU agreement, we understand that the device manufacturers are asked to incorporate the USB Power Delivery charging communication protocol if they want their devices to have charging powers higher than 15W. Very broadly speaking, though, I expect all smartphone manufacturers to settle on a fixed power level (either 45W, or even 65W via PD) thanks to the magic of competition, allowing us to fast charge any phones with the same charging speed outside of the proprietary methods. Yes, there’s 25W “fast” charging too, but it is unlikely to become the common floor that competition forces everyone to rise to — 45W appears to be a much better floor. Yes, there’s nothing stopping them from just tacking on 15W USB PD too — but we’re expecting the forces of competition to force the OEM to do better here.
Consider the vanilla Galaxy S22, for instance. This particular phone tops out at 25W charging speed, which is the same as its predecessor, the Galaxy S21. The Galaxy S22 Plus and the Galaxy S22 Ultra, however, support 45W fast charging. Those demand a USB PD charger with Programmable Power Supply (PPS) support to top up at the full 45W, and even then the phones themselves demand 40W+ power for only a few moments before they drop down to hovering around 30W. One might argue about the diminishing returns in charging speeds when it comes to power consumption versus charge times, but refilling the vanilla Galaxy S22’s tank from 0% to 100% takes a lot longer than it should for a phone of this size that costs as much as it does. It’s particularly annoying given the vanilla Galaxy S22’s less-than-ideal battery life.
If harmonizing fast charging USB PD means all these phones would adhere to a single, faster USB PD charging speed as a minimum, that would also make the experience of using these compact phones with smaller batteries that much better. Every time you do run low on these phones, it would be easier to find a compatible charger around you that will do a good job of bringing you enough juice to last another few hours. While definitely not a perfect replacement, the ability to quickly top up a dying phone with supreme ease would make it more palatable to use compact phones with relatively smaller batteries. Remember, the standard also applied to laptops, cameras, and other electronic devices, so your chances of coming across a compatible charger and cable will increase manifold.
To take another example on Android, the OnePlus 10 Pro can push up to 45W through USB PD with support for 15V and up to 3.0A, and that is when you look beyond the proprietary 65W/80W charging that OnePlus uses as a selling point. The PD charging speed, however, is still sensitive to specific voltages and it changes depending on the battery’s current change. USB PD 3.0, in case you don’t know, dropped fixed power profiles in favor of a more flexible rule which keeps a fixed voltage while allowing for a wider range of current levels. The USB Power Delivery Programmable Power Supply protocol alleviates some of those issues with configurable voltage levels. It’s probably not as easy to settle for a common USB PD charging speed as we’d imagine considering how charging speed is sensitive to specific voltages and also it changes based on the battery’s current charge, but this calls for a bigger discussion on a technical level to fill the gaps.
Fast charging for iPhones, or lack thereof
The idea of harmonizing fast charging is particularly interesting for iPhones that continue to remain the popular holdouts of USB-C charging. Even the most powerful iPhones on the market right now use a Lightning port, the proprietary connector Apple introduced back in 2012 with the iPhone 5. iPhones have indeed gotten better in terms of charging speeds over the years, but the current charging speeds are still nothing to sneeze at.
Even if you spend an arm and a leg to buy an expensive 30W Apple charger for your iPhone 13 Pro Max, it’ll take as much as an hour and 30 minutes to go from 0 to 100%. But do you know what can solve this underlying charging issue that’s not plaguing the iPhones but also many other Android phones out there right now? Yeah, right, just give us phones that can take advantage of USB PD charging to quickly top up the battery so that we can all carry a single charger or borrow one without having to worry about charging speeds.
Look, it’s nice to be able to use proprietary solutions to quickly top up a phone. But I should also be able to use any standard USB PD charger and get up to, say, 45W to charge my phone. It’s no match to what some manufacturers like OPPO are cooking behind the scenes with their 240W chargers but I think 45W is plenty to charge a phone, really quickly. The tradeoff for the lower-than-proprietary speed would be compensated by the absolute widespread availability of USB PD compliant charger hardware, marking it as a net win for the consumers.
While improving the charging speeds or getting the hold of the charging standards on the market isn’t the primary reason why EU lawmakers have moved the needle, it’s still something to think about how things can change for the better by Fall 2024. I have no qualms against the phones that use proprietary charging but I’ll happily take more ‘W’ (no pun intended) if harmonizing fast charging with USB PD saves me the hassle of running through different chargers based on the phones I use.
Laptops will also have to comply with the rule but that’s happening at a later date, and it’s a different conversation altogether because it’ll be interesting to see how budget designs handle the policy as most USB-C charging laptops on market are more expensive ultralight models. That being said, I am just pumped about being able to use the same charger for some other devices I carry with me at all times including the laptop, cameras, a handheld gaming console, etc., and quickly refill the tank without having to wait for long.
The legislation still needs to be voted on by both the EU Parliament and the Council, but let’s get some conversation going around this topic. So what are your thoughts on the decision to standardize USB-C and PD? Also, how do you think the manufacturers — especially Apple — will respond to the EU policy? Let us know by dropping a line in the comments below.