EU proposes mandatory USB-C on all devices, including iPhones

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has announced plans to force smartphone and other electronics manufacturers to fit a common USB-C charging port on their devices. The proposal is likely to have the biggest impact on Apple, which continues to use its proprietary Lightning connector rather than the USB-C connector adopted by most of its competitors. The rules are intended to cut down on electronic waste by allowing people to re-use existing chargers and cables when they buy new electronics.

In addition to phones, the rules will apply to other devices like tablets, headphones, portable speakers, videogame consoles, and cameras. Manufacturers will also be forced to make their fast-charging standards interoperable, and to provide information to customers about what charging standards their device supports. Under the proposal, customers will be able to buy new devices without an included charger.

The proposals only cover devices using wired, not wireless, chargers, EU commissioner Thierry Breton said in a press conference, adding that “there is plenty of room for innovation on wireless.” A spokesperson for the Commission subsequently confirmed to The Verge that a USB-C port is only mandatory for devices that charge using a cable. But, if a device charges exclusively via wireless, like Apple’s rumored portless iPhone, there’d be no requirement for a USB-C charging port.

An EU infographic on the proposed rules.
Image: European Union

To become law, the revised Radio Equipment Directive proposal will need to pass a vote in the European Parliament. If adopted, manufacturers will eventually have 24 months to comply with the new rules. The parliament has already voted in favor of new rules on a common charger in early 2020, indicating that today’s proposal should have broad support.

“Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices. With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary. We are putting an end to that,” said commissioner Thierry Breton. “With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics – an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste.”

“European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers. We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger,” European Commission executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager said.

Today’s proposal is focused on the charging port on the device end, but the Commission says it eventually hopes to ensure “full interoperability” on both ends of the cable. The power supply end will be addressed in a review to be launched later this year.

The proposals follow a vote in the European Parliament in January 2020 when lawmakers voted for new rules on common chargers. As of 2016, the amount of electronic waste produced across the bloc amounted to around 12.3 million metric tons.

The biggest impact of the new rules is likely to be felt by Apple, which continues to ship phones with a Lightning connector as opposed to the increasingly universal USB-C port. As of 2018, around 29 percent of phone chargers sold in the EU used USB-C, 21 percent used Lightning, and around half used the older Micro USB standard, according to an EU assessment reported by Reuters. These proportions are likely to have shifted considerably as USB-C has replaced Micro USB across all but the least expensive Android phones.

Efforts to get smartphone manufacturers to use the same charging standard in the EU date back to at least 2009, when Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and Nokia signed a voluntary agreement to use a common standard. In the following years, the industry gradually adopted Micro USB and, more recently, USB-C as a common charging port. However, despite reducing the amount of charging standards from over 30 down to just three (Micro USB, USB-C, and Lightning), regulators have said this voluntary approach has fallen short of its objectives.

Apple was a notable outlier in that it never included a Micro USB port on its phones directly. Instead, it offered a Micro USB to 30-pin adapter.

Apple said it disagreed with today’s proposals in a statement. “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 from the company told Reuters. The company has also previously objected to the proposals because it says they risk creating e-waste by forcing people to throw out their existing Lightning accessories if they’re incompatible with the universal standard.

Although it’s continued to use Lightning, Apple has made its own efforts to reduce charger e-waste. Last year, it stopped shipping charging bricks or earbuds in the box with new iPhones and supplied them only with a Lightning to USB-C cable. However, the move was met with a mixed response, with some arguing that it helped Apple’s bottom line more than the environment.

While European lawmakers focus mainly on wired chargers, wireless charging is becoming increasingly popular across smartphones and has largely converged on a single cross-platform standard: Qi. There have even been rumors that Apple could ship an iPhone without a Lightning port and have it rely entirely on wireless charging for power.

Update September 23rd, 9:22AM ET: Updated to note Breton’s comments about wireless chargers from Q&A, and confirmation that a completely wireless phone would not need to include USB-C. Also added comment from Apple.

Comments

Even as someone who would prefer a USB-C iPhone I’m skeptical that mandating a single port for all phones is a good idea. What happens if someone makes a port with higher speeds or better feature than USB-C?

The spec could be rolled into usb-c if it’s good enough like thunderbolt is. Or the law could be changed to the new port if it really does offer more advantages.

I don’t see this as anything but a good thing to be honest.

So let me get this straight: if wireless charging keeps improving and some manufacturers release models (Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, whoever) without any ports in order to improve water and dust resistance, those models will be ilegal in the EU? And you think that is good?

At least make having a connector optional.

I mean, several years ago, the silly number of mini-USB conectors made all this a mess. But now that everything is starting to be either USB-C or lighting? Do we really win anything if we force just one?

Other than having to throw away all the lighting cables I’ve bought during the years and buy new ones, I don’t see anything that will be improved…

And for chargers, which are the more harmful things for the environment, even Apple uses USB-C, so we are just talking about cables…

During a Q&A after the announcement, the commissioner said this applies to wired charging ports only, implying wireless-only charging devices wouldn’t be forced to install a USB-C port.

good, at least magsafe is not wireless

By that logic a wireless charger can’t exist.

Read the article. They said this legislation is for the device side plug only, not the side that plugs into the power source. Also, they clearly said this does not cover wireless charging so there is zero impact on the Magsafe or similar charging pads.

At the end of the day, lightning is old, slow, and has poor 3rd party support for TV’s, computers, and all other types of electronic devices. Lightning ports need to die. Apple is the only company that is using that piece of crap.

Plus Apple is holding onto lightning because it still makes them lots of money. If Apple really cared about the environment, then they would have dropped lightning a few years ago. Apple could have dropped the lightning to USB-C cable as well, because it can only be used on iPhones. LOL, If Apple doesn’t get rid of their crappy proprietary lightning port for their next iPhone, then Apple really and truly doesn’t give a crap about the environment.

I don’t understand. Everything has a wire in the end… and the end of a MagSafe puck that plugs in is USB-C… so on both counts I don’t know what you’re getting at here.

It’s got to be faster though. I couldn’t stand how slow MagSafe was, and the weight and heat it adds to the phone when I was holding it was terrible

But presumably the wireless charging puck itself will be obliged to connect to the eventual charger via a USB C port? In other words, for wireless phones, the USB C port is, er, ported to the puck.

OK, so the port is now on the wireless charging puck, but other than that? One extra sub-para in the regs.

Wireless charging is just another overhyped crap toy people obsess over for no reason, citing convenience. It’s not getting better, and it’s just a waste of energy. This is a great proposal to stop companies that force their dumb outdated technologies from making way into a dodgy business of selling you their proprietary overpriced garbage. I would, for example, not like to see magsafe return to mac because apple is making garbage cables which literally fall apart in a year and the same should go for all their other devices. Also that connector was shit from day one, who the hell trips over their cord so frequently?! Knowing apple, they might just say one day that they would not support any third party puck chargers for data transfer and you’ll be again forced to buy a single-use piece of junk from them. My friend has a medical thing that runs on a proprietary port and could easily be charged via usb c and relieve her of worries if she loses the charger.
Also, they never mentioned anything about banning portless devices, but such should not exist anyway if they are any less trivial than an e-cigarette.

Wireless charging is getting better. Companies like xiaomi and onePlus have already showed off 50W and 80W wireless fast-charging tech. Thing is, these proprietary solutions will create the same kind of divergence that happened to charging ports, resulting in the same e-waste the EU is addressing today. But it’s not like manufacturers haven’t been warned.

Wireless chargers might be getting better in comparison to previous solutions, but they are still just a lot of inefficient junk. There is already a noticeable loss with the power brick due to conversion to DC and stepping down the voltage. Wireless pads are loosing another 30+% of charging potential compared to a solid connection. Also, it depends a lot how the charger will perform with well you alight your phone on the charging pad. I used this and would have often put my phone down and it would not charge if I didn’t move it a centimeter to the side. There is just no convenience in there if people wake up to an uncharged phone because they didn’t align it properly where they could’ve just made the slightest effort to plug in a single cable that is positioned on their bedside table which requires no additional adjustment of the phone for it to charge properly.

I used this and would have often put my phone down and it would not charge if I didn’t move it a centimeter to the side. There is just no convenience in there if people wake up to an uncharged phone because they didn’t align it properly

I never understood people who make this complaint. How are all you people having such immense difficulty with such a trivial task? Are you just super uncoordinated? Or have the world’s most finicky wireless charger?

I’ve been using wireless chargers for 3-4 years now, and have almost never encountered this problem, with the possible exception of when I was using it for the very first time or two. It’s something I literally never worry about.

I’m coordinated, but my Belkin iPhone wireless charger is very sensitive. Even if it charges when you lay it down, sometimes if it’s off by just half an inch, it’ll abort charging after a few minutes! Just long enough for you to walk away. I’d call it unreliable. So when I really need a full charge, and I can’t afford to play games, I make sure to charge WITH a wire. For example, battery is at 15% and I’ll need it for important activities tomorrow.

Talking about trivial tasks, why not just plug the phone in instead of wasting time and energy for some impractical magic tech gizmo?

its not impractical or magic tech. Its been around forever and works very well. Plugging in your phone to charge is becoming less practical itself, with the looming threat of disappearing headphone jacks. Be less out of touch.

Its been around forever and works very well. Plugging in your phone to charge is becoming less practical itself, with the looming threat of disappearing headphone jacks

First, No it has not. More like since 2010.
Second, it is not practical at all. The planet is f-ed up already now we have to bear the burden of lazy hipsters charging their uber-expensive tik-tok machines with wasteful inductive plates? Just plug the damn cable in.

I dont even like the term wireless. There is still a wire that goes right up to your phone. Its really a plugless charger. and its very inefficient and bad for the environment if used at a large scale. I have on on my desk. don;t use it. I have to take my case off, which makes it far less convenient than plugging in.

"Inductive charging"

Yes, they have been warned. But aren’t most wireless chargers USB C connected anyway? So shouldn’t be an issue, unless you’re talking about Apple trying it on with a proprietary connector like the lightning?

It’s right there in the article that fully wireless devices will not be required to include a charging port to meet the proposed mandate.

having them use USB-C still makes sense

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