Why Does the EU Want to Force iPhones to Have USB-C Ports?

by Thomas Ruggiero on November 23, 2021

All iPhones in circulation currently use Apple's Lightning connector. However, if the European Union has anything to say about it, that could change sometime soon.

Lightning cables are exclusive to iPhones, and the EU has a bone to pick with how that contributes to electronic waste in the environment. Let’s get into all the details.

What Exactly Is the Proposal?

EU Proposal
European Union

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has announced a proposal to require smartphone and other electronics manufacturers to include a standard USB-C charging port on their devices.

The revised Radio Equipment Directive proposal would also require the unification of fast-charging standards, as well as the ability for customers to purchase new devices without a charger. The proposal would also demand manufacturers to provide clear, no-BS guidelines on the charging standards that their device supports.

In addition to phones, the rules would apply to tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers, and handheld video game consoles.

What’s the Fuss About?

If you've never been bothered by the number of tangly wires you probably have to use every day to keep your devices charged, the EU is. And with good reason.

According to the EU, the average tech consumer owns three mobile phone chargers, with two of them being used on a regular basis. Despite this, 38 percent of consumers have reported at least one instance of being unable to charge their mobile phone due to incompatibility between available chargers. That’s an inconvenient situation, especially in an age where running out of phone juice can easily be a grade one disaster. But that’s not the only problem. It’s also insanely expensive! And you’ll be surprised just how much.

Every year, consumers spend approximately $2.8 billion on standalone chargers that are not included with electronic devices. Hence, the EU’s proposed rules aim to mitigate the estimated 11,000 tonnes of e-waste generated by discarded and unused chargers each year.

For years, the European Commission has been working to address this growing issue. Attempts to get smartphone manufacturers in the EU to use the same charging standard date back at least to 2009, when Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and Nokia signed a voluntary agreement to use a common standard. In the years since, the industry has gradually adopted Micro USB and, more recently, USB-C as a standard charging port.

Despite the fact that the number of charging standards has been reduced from over 30 to just three (Micro USB, USB-C, and Lightning), regulators have stated that this voluntary approach has fallen short of its goals.

Implications and Expectations

The EU’s proposal is important in two major ways. First, it would limit device manufacturers' ability to design to their own specifications, at least in the case of charging connections. Apple currently has full control over the design of its devices, and subsequently, charging ports. With the EU mandate, the design will be determined at a regulatory level, rather than being a creative decision made by manufacturers based on technical or performance requirements.

It also means that Apple would lose the revenue it earns from every Lightning cable and accessory that works with the iPhone, whether made by Apple or not, as well as the control it has over what kinds of hardware exist (or do not exist) for the iPhone and which companies make them.

Apple's MFi program requires that you go through Apple if you want to plug anything into an iPhone, whether it's a charger, adapter, or accessory. And Apple takes a cut from each and every one of those devices.

The EU's move could pave the way for additional right to repair regulations, such as the implementation of user-replaceable batteries. There is an effort to make things last longer, easier to repair, and easier to swap out parts, and we believe this USB-C rule is part of that.

To become law, the proposal will need to be approved by the European Parliament, but that body voted in favor of common charger rules last year. Manufacturers of medical devices would have 24 months to adapt to the new rules.

This regulation would force Apple to change the design of whatever iPhone is on the horizon as soon as possible. But, Apple is rumored to be developing portless iPhones, and since the regulation only applies to wired connectors, that may be a way to bypass the rule.

If the mandate is approved, manufacturers will have two years to comply with the new regulations. While Apple has been successful in lobbying for its interests in the United States, there is little Apple can do to prevent this from happening.

Keyede Erinfolami (50 Articles Published)

Keyede Erinfolami is passionate about using technology to improve productivity in daily life and work. When she's not writing, you can find her kicking ass at Scrabble or finding the best angles to take nature pictures. Has a healthy relationship with the Oxford comma.

More From Keyede Erinfolami

Keyede Erinfolami is passionate about using technology to improve productivity in daily life and work. When she's not writing, you can find her kicking ass at Scrabble or finding the best angles to take nature pictures. Has a healthy relationship with the Oxford comma.

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