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USB-C will be mandatory for phones sold in the EU ‘by autumn 2024’

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A major blow to Apple’s Lightning port

A collection of USB-C cables.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

European Union lawmakers have reached an agreement on legislation that will force all future smartphones sold in the EU — including Apple’s iPhone — to be equipped with the universal USB-C port for wired charging by fall 2024. The rule will also apply to other electronic devices including tablets, digital cameras, headphones, handheld video game consoles, and e-readers. Laptops will have to comply with the rule at a later date.

The legislation has been under development for more than a decade, but an agreement on its scope was reached this morning following negotiations between different EU bodies.

“Today we have made the common charger a reality in Europe!” said the European Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba in a press statement. “European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device. Now they will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics.” The legislation also includes provisions designed to address wireless chargers in the future, as well as harmonizing fast-charging standards.

The legislation still needs to be approved by the EU Parliament and Council later this year, but this appears to be a formality. In a press release, the European Parliament stated clearly that the law will be in place “by autumn 2024.” By this date, all devices covered by the law and sold in the EU will have to use USB-C for wired charging.

The introduction of a “common charger” is an attempt by the EU to both cut down on e-waste and make life easier for consumers. Lawmakers hope that, in the future, phones and similar gadgets won’t need to come with a charger in the box, as buyers will already have the appropriate accessories at home. The EU estimates that the legislation could save consumers 250 million euros per year on “unnecessary charger purchases” and cut down on around 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually.

The agreement will have the biggest impact on Apple, which is the only major smartphone manufacturer to still use a proprietary port instead of USB-C. In 2021, Apple sold 241 million iPhones globally, of which about 56 million were sold in Europe.

When asked during a press conference if the EU was specifically targeting Apple, Thierry Breton, commissioner for the EU’s internal market, said this was not the case. “The rule applies to all and sundry. It’s not adopted against anybody,” said Breton. “We’re working for the consumers, not the companies, and we have to give these companies rules; rules that are clear in order to enter the internal market.”

Rapporteur Saliba added: “In two years’ time, if Apple wants to sell their products within our internal market they have to abide by our rules, and their device will have to be USB-C.”

However, the EU’s press release says the new legislation applies to devices “that are rechargeable via a wired cable.” This means that Apple may be able to avoid adding USB-C to its devices by creating a phone that only charges wirelessly (as has been previously rumored). However, recent reports say the company is testing iPhones with USB-C internally, and Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims Apple could make the switch as early as next year. Apple already uses the USB-C standard on laptops and some tablets.

The European Commission announced its current plans for this legislation last September, but the bloc’s efforts to force manufacturers to use a common charging standard go back over a decade. In the years since, Android manufacturers have converged upon micro USB and then USB-C as the common charging standard of choice, while Apple went from offering phones with its proprietary 30-pin connector to Lightning.

Apple has pushed back against the EU’s attempts to force USB-C on its devices. “We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world,” a spokesperson told Reuters last year. It’s also argued that forcing a switch to USB-C would create e-waste rather than reduce it, because it would make its existing ecosystem of Lightning accessories redundant.

Critics say the new legislation will stifle innovation by de-incentivizing manufacturers from developing improved charging standards. The EU denies this will be the case, and says it will update the legislation as new technology is developed.

“Don’t think we’re setting something in stone for the next 10 years,” said Breton at the press conference. “We have a standard that is being developed, and we have a dedicated team that will keep a close eye on all this and adapt as time goes by. We will evolve.”

One aspect of the law that has yet to be settled, though, is a charging standard for laptops. While phone manufacturers will have 24 months after the legislation is adopted this summer to adapt their devices, that deadline is longer for laptop-makers: 40 months. EU lawmakers say this is due to the difficulty in creating a standard charger that applies to laptops with different power requirements.

“We don’t have that technological certainty on a standard which can cater to laptops between 100 and 240 watts,” said rapporteur Saliba. “Our line of reasoning was to extend the deadline for laptops to have a standard that is clear.”

Update June 7th, 7:25AM ET: Article updated with information learned from the press conference announcing agreement.