Bulletins

The EU is proposing mandatory USB-C charging for all devices

No more Lightning cables?

The EU is proposing mandatory USB-C charging for all devices

Modern life involves many chargers. The EU wants to just have one.

Photo: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

If the EU has its way, pretty soon the only charger anywhere will be USB-C.


The European Commission is proposing a revised "Radio Equipment Directive" that would make USB-C "the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles." In other words, pretty much everything. The Commission also wants to prevent chargers from being included in the box with those devices.

The Commission has two reasons for the change: consumer inconvenience and e-waste.

On the former, the idea is that by setting a universal standard users won't have to carry around multiple chargers for their devices, or beg their friends for a Lightning cable. Over the last decade, the Commission said, the number of possible mobile phone chargers has gone from 30 down to three — presumably meaning USB-C, Micro USB and the iPhone's Lightning port — but only legislation will do the rest of the job.

When it comes to e-waste, the Commission's hope is to reduce the number of chargers people need. Margrethe Vestager, in a statement, even noted the familiar issue: "European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers." The Commission said that 11,000 tons of e-waste are created every year from disposed and unused chargers, and a full third of owned chargers are never used.

These proposals have been in the works since a vote last year that expressed support for new charging rules. If any charging standard was to become the standard, USB-C is the clear choice. A single port that could transfer power and data, and work on most device types, was in fact the stated goal of the group that developed USB-C. Even Apple, the most notable holdout on the market, uses USB-C chargers for most of its non-iPhone devices.

But this change will feel to many critics like the EU regulating product design, which is a tricky and fast-moving space. The USB-C standard already encompasses multiple versions and device types, and many variations of power and data throughput; not all USB-C chargers work for all USB-C devices. Meanwhile, the industry is quickly moving to wireless charging and other ways of keeping batteries topped up. (Apple has long been rumored to be working on a port-free phone that only charges wirelessly, for instance.) The Commission's proposed rules don't cover wireless charging, calling it "a developing technology with a low level of market fragmentation," but do allow for the body to become involved in that side of the charging debate down the road.

Apple is predictably not thrilled with the announcement. "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," the company said in a statement to CNN.

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