Pour one out for the Lightning cable.
The European Parliament voted in favor of new charging standards that will require all phones, tablets, and cameras sold in the European Union to be USB-C-ready by 2024. The mandate will extend to laptops in 2026.
The rule — which was introduced in June — passed 602-13, while eight members abstaining from voting. That reflects an overwhelming desire to make the average person's life easier (goodbye, cluttered junk drawer) as well as cut down on pernicious e-waste. While the decision means that ports such as micro-USB will fall by the wayside, Apple's Lightning port is also slated to go the way of the dinosaur.
The company's iPad and various MacBooks rely on USB-C charging. But Apple has held steadfastly to the technology for the iPhone, rolling out its most recent iteration of the phone with a Lightning rather than a USB-C port. The iPhone was the bestselling phone in the EU last year, with Apple capturing 34% of the smartphone market.
The European Council needs to sign off on the legislation before it officially goes into law. But that prospect looks likely. After that, the clock to USB-C hegemony begins counting down. The timing could work out well for Apple at least; the company releases a new iPhone every year in September. With the mandate likely to take effect in fall 2024, it means next year's iPhone could well be the last one to feature a Lightning port — unless Apple decides to just get the switch over with, something the company is reportedly considering.
The company could also make a USB-C version of the iPhone for the EU and a Lightning version for everyone else, of course, but that seems unlikely given the logistical hurdles. The iPhone could also go totally portless for charging, though that would be a much more radical leap.
As written, the rule would allow electronics without a USB-C port to continue being sold as long as they are "placed on the market before the date of application," according to a press release announcing the vote. Regardless, if you're a Lightning stan, uh, you should consider snapping up an iPhone 14 sooner than later.
Cutting down on e-waste is a sneaky climate policy. The Global E-Waste Monitor put out by the United Nations showed that nearly 54 million tons of e-waste piled up in 2020, a number that could rise to almost 75 million tons by the end of this decade. That's a local environmental concern given the toxic chemicals and components. But it's also a huge waste of emissions. More than two-thirds of the carbon pollution tied to electronics is emitted in the manufacturing process.
Cutting down on the number of charging cables produced (and trashed) is a relatively modest way to cut down on e-waste. Stronger policies that favor right-to-repair as well as companies working harder to stave off forced obsolescence could also offer a pathway to reduce the amount of electronic churn. Improving e-waste recycling is yet another avenue to cut down on trash; the Global E-Waste Monitor found only 17.4% of electronic trash is currently recycled. Apple and other tech companies have touted moving toward a circular economy as central to their sustainability goals. While the EU's USB-C mandate alone won't make that transition magically happen, it could spur further innovation and serve as a reminder of all the work that remains to be done.