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EU vs. Apple: The Fight Over Universal Charger Cables

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Apple opposes EU regulation for universal chargers for its devices. Credit: Public Domain

How many times have iPhone users asked a colleague in the office for a charger, to no avail, as most of them carry the Android-based mini-USB, or USB/Type C adapters? Well, the EU has put forth a plan which would enable all mobile phone makers to agree to a universal charging cable.

As expected, Apple has raised major objections to the proposal.

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The European Union on Thursday said it will impose a universal charger for smartphones, setting up a clash with Apple and its widely used iPhone connector cable. The European Commission believes a standard cable for all devices will cut back on electronic waste, but Apple says a one-size fits all charger will stop innovation and create more pollution.

“EU consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers,” said Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission. Brussels believes tech manufacturers, including Apple, should have done this already themselves.

“We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions,” said Vestgager. “Now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger.” The plan is that the already widely used USB-C charger and port will become the standard for all new devices being sold in the EU. Aside from ease of use, the EU Commission wants to reduce the amount of so-called e-waste.

Consumers currently have to decide between three main chargers to power their phones: Lightnings, for Apple handsets, micro-USBs, widely used on most other mobile phones, and USB-Cs, which are increasingly being used. That range is greatly simplified from 2009, when dozens of different types of chargers were bundled with mobile phones, creating piles of electronic garbage when users changed brands.

Apple strongly resisting EU charger regulations

Apple, which already uses USB-C connectors on some of its iPad devices and laptop computers, insists legislation to force a universal charger for all mobiles in the European Union is unwarranted. “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,” Apple said.

On top of forcing tech companies to only sell devices with the USB-C port, they will also forbid them from including a charger in the sale, meaning consumers will be able to use chargers they already own. EU figures suggest 420 million phones and devices which would come under this directive were sold in 2020 alone.

EU offers tech giants transition period

The European Commission had long defended a voluntary agreement it made with the device industry that was set in place in 2009 and saw a big reduction in cables, but Apple refused to abide by it. In the commission’s proposal, which could yet be considerably changed before ratification, smartphone makers will be given a 24-month transition period, giving “ample time” for companies to fall in line.

Apple said that it believed the two year transition period would be a major worry for the industry as it could prevent the sale of existing equipment. They added that “unfortunately this legislation will disrupt a thriving ecosystem, create electronic waste, and greatly inconvenience users.”

The company says that innovation regarding chargers will be stunted if the EU imposes these measures.

The universal charger plan has been welcomed, however, by the European Association for the Co-ordination of Consumer Representation in Standardisation (ANEC). They released a statement saying “the present plethora of chargers – both within brands and among brands – represents unnecessary costs to the consumer and to the environment in the extraction of the raw materials for their construction and in their disposal.”

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