EU plans to force OEMs to use a common USB-C charger and ship phones without one in the box
The European Commission is set to present a legislative proposal today for all phones, tablets, and headphones sold in the European Union to have a common charging port. This comes after the European Parliament had voted in favor of Right to Repair, an initiative that would benefit consumers as well as the Union’s plan to force OEMs to allow users to uninstall bloatware from their devices. The news isn’t really new though since EU lawmakers have been attempting to generalize the charger used to charge consumer electronic gadgets for over a decade now.
As reported by Reuters, the EU is in favor of having a single charger for all popular gadgets in order to cut down on the environmental impact as well as make it easy for consumers to carry just a single charger for all their gadgets instead of using different proprietary connectors. While there’s no explicit mention of what the proposed common port is, it’s likely to be USB-C since it’s the most commonly used charging port across devices especially on the Android side of things. The proposal also suggests not shipping a charger in the box, a move that some brands have already implemented citing benefits to the environment (while also serving their own economic interests).
Most Android devices use a USB-C port for charging and accessory manufacturers have also switched to USB-C for their headphones, battery packs, etc. In fact, a lot of new laptops also charge via USB-C. Given that most Android devices already use a common port, this proposal is going to affect one brand the most — Apple. The iPhone, the entry-level iPad, and the AirPods, all use Apple’s proprietary lightning port to charge. Apple’s own gadgets like the more premium iPads and MacBooks use USB-C, so there’s no logical reason why the iPhone still uses lightning.
Given that lightning is Apple’s proprietary port, it generates a good amount of revenue for the company via its accessory certification program — Made for iPhone (MFI). Apple said that rules forcing connectors to conform to one type could deter innovation, create a mountain of electronic waste and irk consumers. It’s quite the irony though since a single charger would make things more convenient for users.
According to a commission study in 2019, almost 50% of phones sold in 2018 had a micro-USB port with 29% of devices using USB-C and 21% using lightning. However, over the past couple of years, micro-USB has been phased out of most devices except for some low-end, entry-level devices; so the percentage of phones with a USB-C port would’ve certainly increased. It would be interesting to see the outcome of this proposal — if there’s something that can get Apple to switch to USB-C on the iPhone, it’s got to be this.
Update: Press announcement for revised Radio Equipment Directive
The European Commission has issued the press announcement, announcing that it will now put forward legislation to establish a common charging solution for all relevant devices. The proposal is for a revised Radio Equipment Directive, which will harmonize the charging port and fast charging technology, making USB-C the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers, and handheld videogame consoles. This will improve consumers’ convenience and reduce the environmental footprint associated with the production and disposal of chargers.
The complete proposal is summarized as follows:
- A harmonised charging port for electronic devices: USB-C will be the common port. This will allow consumers to charge their devices with the same USB-C charger, regardless of the device brand.
- Harmonised fast charging technology will help prevent that different producers unjustifiably limit the charging speed and will help to ensure that charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device.
- Unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device: consumers will be able to purchase a new electronic device without a new charger. This will limit the number of unwanted chargers purchased or left unused. Reducing production and disposal of new chargers is estimated to reduce the amount of electronic waste by almost a thousand tonnes’ yearly.
- Improved information for consumers: producers will need to provide relevant information about charging performance, including information on the power required by the device and if it supports fast charging. This will make it easier for consumers to see if their existing chargers meet the requirements of their new device or help them to select a compatible charger. Combined with the other measures, this would help consumers limit the number of new chargers purchased and help them save €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases.
The revised Radio Equipment Directive will now need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. Once adopted, the industry will have 24 months before enforcement begins.
There’s no doubt that there will be some litigation to expect as hurdles in the enforcement of this. And not just Apple, this directive also targets Android OEMs as it harmonizes the fast charging technology in the device. The directive proposal specifies USB PD as the fast charging standard for universal implementation:
USB Type-C is a technology that is already common to many categories or classes of radio equipment as it provides high-quality charging and data transfer. The USB TypeC charging receptacle, when combined with the USB Power Delivery charging communication protocol, is capable of providing up to 100W of power and therefore leaves ample room for further development of fast charging solutions, while allowing the market to cater for low-end phones that do not need fast charging. Mobile phones and similar radio equipment that support fast charging can incorporate the USB Power Delivery features as described in standard EN IEC 62680-1-2:2020 ‘Universal serial bus interfaces for data and power – Part 1-2: Common components – USB Power Delivery specification’.
It remains to be seen how the industry reacts. Apple will be forced to make the switch to USB-C…..or, it could decide to hasten its plans for a portless iPhone and rely completely on MagSafe. The proposed directive does provide for a divergence in non-wired charging, so Apple may not have a straight path ahead:
With respect to charging by means other than wired charging, divergent solutions may be developed in the future, which may have negative impacts on interoperability, consumer convenience and the environment. Whilst it is premature to impose specific requirements on such solutions at this stage, the Commission should be able to take action towards harmonising them in the future, if fragmentation on the internal market is observed.
We’ll have to wait and watch.