The days of Apple’s Lightning connector seem to be numbered, as the European Union gets closer to enforcing the USB Type-C standard as the only charging solution for low-power devices allowed in EU member states.
The idea has been around for years, but the rule was formally proposed by the European Commission (EC) in September 2021. Now an EU committee has endorsed the proposal, paving the way for an assembly vote in May and a directive likely to be enacted by the end of the year. EU member states would normally have two years to enact the rules into national law, and manufacturers would have 24 months to change their shipping ports.
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Of course, this wouldn’t be a huge concern for Android phone manufacturers, which almost all use a USB-C charging port already. However, Apple is expected to oppose the rule. Its unwavering commitment to the Lightning connector, first introduced in 2012 with the launch of the iPhone 5, has resulted in a decade’s supply of Lightning-based chargers for multiple generations of iPhone and iPad. Apple claims that if these devices become obsolete overnight, it will lead to a massive amount of electronic waste, and asserts that global adoption of the USB Type-C connector would ‘stifle innovation’. The latter objection was a bit perplexing, since Apple itself has already moved to a USB-C connector for various iPad and Macbook models.
Justifying the attempt to standardize phone chargers, Alex Agios Saliba, who is leading the debate in Parliament, said:
“With half a billion mobile chargers shipped in Europe each year, generating 11,000-13,000 tons of e-waste, one charger for mobile phones and other small and medium electronics will benefit everyone.”
While trying to standardize phone chargers can be seen as beneficial to phone charging, we can’t help but think that this move came years too late. Back in the pre-smartphone era, nearly every phone manufacturer will use its own charging connector, which makes the prospect of a single, standardized charging solution very attractive. But in 2022, with only USB-C and Lightning being the dominant charging connectors (now that USB micro-B is obsolete), moving to a single phone charging interface is unlikely to be a game changer.
However, it’s not just phone chargers that will be subject to the EU’s USB Type C charger standards. Tablets, headphones, e-readers, low-power laptops, keyboards, computer mice, earphones, smart watches, and electronic games are all required to be equipped with a common USB-C charging interface.
In the face of the collective power of the European Union, it’s hard to see how Apple can keep the Lightning connector for much longer. But instead of going to the “dark side” and adopting USB-C for iPhone charging, it might simply do away with the physical charging port entirely and switch exclusively to wireless charging. This will likely have the added benefit of improving iPhone security upon entry, as well as providing Apple with additional income as users are forced to purchase a MagSafe charger.
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