This week, European Union lawmakers agreed on new proposals to force makers of everything from smartphones and headphones to digital cameras and tablets to use the same universal charging port: USB Type- vs. The new rules are expected to go into effect by fall 2024, after which those devices that charge using a wired cable will need to do so through a built-in USB-C port.
The biggest impact of this legislation is likely to land on Apple’s iPhone. While the rest of the smartphone industry has gradually converged around USB-C as the single, standardized wired charging port, Apple has firmly stuck to Lightning, the proprietary connector it introduced with the iPhone 5 in 2012. EU legislation could finally force this to move forward.
The EU rules are only a provisional agreement for now and will need to be approved by the European Council and the European Parliament before becoming official. This should happen after the summer holidays, which end on September 1. It will come into force 20 days later, and most manufacturers will then have 24 months to comply, hence the fall 2024 compliance date. power required by these devices is less common than phone chargers. Instead, they’ll be 40 months old, which brings us roughly to early 2026.
If Apple wants the iPhone to have a physical charging port after fall 2024, the EU wants USB-C to be its only option. It can’t just offer an external dongle like it did ten years ago. The most recent public versions of the proposed legislation specify that the USB Type-C connector used for charging must remain “accessible and operational at all times”, meaning that a removable dongle is unlikely to cut it. This is because EU rules are designed to reduce e-waste, with a universal charging standard that will hopefully mean more chargers can be reused rather than ending up in landfills. The EU estimates the rules could reduce 11,000 metric tonnes (more than 12,000 tons) of e-waste a year and save customers 250 million euros (around $268 million) on ‘unnecessary charger purchases’ “.
We have an agreement on the common charger!
This means more savings for EU consumers and less waste for the planet:
— European Commission (@EU_Commission) June 7, 2022
New flagship iPhones tend to be announced in September each year, which means that Apple’s 2024 iPhone lineup (likely to be called iPhone 16) will launch as soon as the legislation takes effect. But the rules state that “there should be no products on the market that do not comply” with the directive, says Desislava Dimitrova, spokeswoman for the European Parliament. This means that Apple may want to make the changes sooner because it would have to modify or remove older models from the market. Apple generally continues to sell older models for several years at a lower price.
There are already reports that the iPhone maker could make the switch next year. Last month, reputable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reported that Apple could be ready to make the switch as early as 2023. A few days later Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman corroborated this report and said Apple was already testing iPhones with the connector. If accurate, these reports suggest we could see an iPhone with a USB-C port a year before the new EU rules come into effect.
Of course, the EU can’t force Apple to make the switch worldwide. But all iPhones sold in the European Union’s single market should follow these rules. In its 2021 fiscal year, nearly a quarter of Apple’s net sales came from Europe, and the iPhone was its top-selling product globally. The market is just too lucrative for Apple to abandon because of legislation like this. Apple might make USB-C iPhones and ship them exclusively to the EU, but given Apple’s focus on supply chain efficiency that sees it selling a narrow selection of very similar devices in the world (with only a few special models excepted), this approach seems unlikely.
An Apple spokesperson declined to answer questions about how the company intends to comply with upcoming legislation.
There’s at least one way Apple is avoiding having to ship USB-C ports on its phones, and that’s through wireless charging. Current EU legislation only concerns wired charging. if a phone only charged wirelessly, it could completely avoid EU charging harmonization rules.
It’s a moot distinction given that portless phones don’t really exist outside of the realms of a few concept phones and publicity stunts. But it’s important given the rumors that Apple considered going down this route with the iPhone. These rumors have been swirling since Apple introduced the MagSafe wireless charging standard with the iPhone 12 lineup. However, these rumors have died down more recently and the decision to stick with wired charging could explain why Apple seems relatively un interested in creating an ecosystem of MagSafe accessories.
Apple has resisted EU attempts to standardize around USB-C. In comments submitted to the European Commission last year, the company argued that the regulations could slow “the introduction of beneficial innovations in charging standards, including those related to safety and energy efficiency. “. He also said the new rules could increase e-waste in the short term “by triggering the disposal of existing cables and accessories”. He has a point. With around 1 billion iPhones in use worldwide at the start of 2021, it’s a plot charging equipment that will become redundant over time. And all of those customers are going to need new USB-C accessories to replace them.
As my former colleague Chaim Gartenberg wrote last year, Apple’s concerns may have as much to do with Apple’s bottom line as they do with e-waste or innovation. Since Lightning is a proprietary connector, any accessory maker that wants to support it must go through Apple’s MFi program, which allows Apple to get a slice of the lucrative iPhone accessory market.
The irony is that, despite its opposition to installing a USB-C port on its phones, Apple has been one of the biggest champions of USB-C in other device categories. On the laptop side, the company started using USB-C in 2015 when it launched a MacBook that featured a single USB-C port alongside a headphone jack. On the contrary, Apple adopted USB-C too quickly, forcing the “dongle life” that is so much laughed at by users around the world. Apple has also introduced USB-C to a growing number of its iPads, such as the iPad Pro and, more recently, the iPad Air.
(Note: While devices covered by EU rules must be able to charge via USB-C, they don’t have to use it as their only form of load. That means MacBooks that charge via MagSafe – the laptop version that is – are still free to do so, as long as their USB-C ports can also charge them. And this is already the case with the latest Apple MacBooks.)
If the legislation takes effect in its current form, it won’t just be the iPhone that Apple will have to switch from Lightning to USB-C in the EU. According to a press release from the European Council, earphones, headphones, wireless mice and wireless keyboards would all be required to use USB-C for wired charging. This would cover AirPods Max, AirPods, Magic Mouse, and Magic Keyboard, all of which currently use Lightning.
In addition to requiring smartphone makers to use the physical USB-C port, the EU also intends to standardize fast charging on all phones, where Apple is starting to fall behind its Android-based rivals. The iPhone 13 Pro Max reported charging under 30W, while Samsung’s USB PD-enabled Galaxy S22 devices can extend up to 45W. The EU also hopes to standardize wireless charging in the future .
The new EU legislation is still far from coming into force. It must be finalized at technical level and voted on by both the European Parliament and the European Council. But between that and the Digital Markets Act, whose provisions include requiring iMessage to interact with other smaller messaging platforms as well as requiring Apple to allow retail stores to third-party apps on the iPhone, the organization is forcing big changes on Apple. And the iPhone maker will have no choice but to play ball if it wants to continue to benefit from one of its biggest markets.