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Time for a Universal Charger?

smartphone, mobile, phone

Based on statistics, old chargers produce more than 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste per year. In the call to reduce electronic waste and make it easier for consumers, since 2009, the European Union (EU) has been an active proponent for adopting a common charging port for all our smartphones, tablets and other portable devices sold within the EU. From its inception in 2015, smartphones with USB-C has now become the standard charging port for almost all Android phones. The notion of the USB-C becoming the standard charging port in the EU standard stems from the 2014 Radio Equipment Directive in hopes to encourage the industry to develop standard chargers.

In 2018, popular manufacturers such as Apple, Google and Samsung signed a voluntary EU agreement to introduce cables and accessories with a USB-C port to their European market. In light of the deal, manufacturers continued to produce mixed results, Apple retaining its lightning connectors and other manufacturers adopting USB-C on high-end models but maintaining micro-USB charging on lower-end models. However, Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight for European Commission, is saying those measures did not go far enough. To ensure that USB-C does become the standard and does not remain merely a manufacturer option, the Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s) call for the European Commission to implement more binding measures.

The result could be that every smartphone, whether high-end or budget models, adopt the USB-C charging port that everyone can share and use. Apple has since responded to the EU’s proposal in a statement saying that the proposed regulation, “stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole.” From Apple’s response, it is highly unlikely that Apple will willingly change the lightning port to USB-C which may mean that if the EU passes the law, this will force Apple and other manufacturers to do so. A majority of voting members have approved an initial draft of this law, but it still needs to receive approval from the EU Council to become law.

So how will this affect Apple users?

The MEP’s main reasoning behind a universal charging port is that it would help reduce electronic waste. But how practical is this? It does appear that this will have to be a gradual process, as it is not reasonable for Apple users in the EU to throw away all their chargers or accessories. Further to this, Apple has contended that,”It would have a direct negative impact by disrupting the hundreds of millions of active devices and accessories used by our European customers and even more, Apple customers worldwide, creating an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconveniencing users.”

A study commissioned by Apple from Copenhagen Economics showed that the costs to move to a standard charger would incur at least 1.5 billion euros which grossly exceeds their 13 million euros budget for environmental benefits. Instead, Apple suggests that regulations should focus on the other end of the cable, where the charging cable plugs into the power source. By unifying the end part of the ports, it would serve a similar outcome by allowing users to benefit from the universal ports – whether it is in charging stations or hotel rooms, at least this option can enable manufacturers to preserve an aspect of their trademark designs. Despite this, if the law is given approval, it is evident that drastic changes will probably not happen anytime soon.

By Zigwai Akut

Jargon Buster:

  • USB-C: Stands for “Universal Serial Bus Type-C.” USB-C is a type of USB connector introduced in 2015. USB-C is the emerging standard for charging and transferring data. At the moment, this pretty much includes most devices such as the latest smartphones, laptops and tablets.
  • Lightning port: The lightning connector was introduced in 2012 by Apple and it still remains as the standard connector for iPhones and iPads. The cable itself is small with a thin Lightning adapter on one side and a standard USB-A adapter on the other.


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