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Europe’s set to mandate common phone chargers — so where does this leave Apple?

This should be fun – the European Union is almost certain to force mobile device manufacturers, Apple(s aapl) included, to conform to a single battery charger specification, in order to cut down on electronic waste.

It’s almost three years since the EU gave manufacturers a choice: all adopt the same micro-USB charger, or face new legislation. Pretty much everyone fell in line. For most manufacturers, it was a no-brainer – if everyone uses the same charger, it shouldn’t be necessary to ship a new one with each device. This cuts down on e-waste while also allowing for smaller packaging and, as a result, lower shipping costs.

At the time, Apple signed a memorandum of understanding saying it would play ball. Luckily for Apple, which had built up a lucrative peripherals-licensing business around its connector, the memorandum allowed signatories to ship the standardized charger bundled with an adapter for the proprietary port. Of course, Apple did nothing of the sort.

Now it looks like it won’t have much choice if it wants to keep selling its mobile devices in the EU. On Thursday, the European Parliament and the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of Ministers (which represents the EU member states’ governments) agreed upon a provisional directive that will force manufacturers to use a standardized charger, among other things.

“I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger – although the Council and the Commission were hesitant at first. This will benefit the consumers,” said Barbara Weiler, the Parliament’s rapporteur on the issue.

So where does this leave Apple? Hard to say at the moment. A spokesman for the European Parliament told me on Thursday that it wasn’t yet clear whether the new rules – which still have to be formally adopted by the Parliament and member states around March 2014 – allow for the use of a bundled adapter.

I find it very hard to believe the EU will force Apple to ditch its Lightning connector, so I would expect bundled adapters to be allowed – and this time, because we’re talking legislation, Apple will have to follow through.

As for what kind of common connector we’re talking about, it’s fair to say it will be the new Type-C connector that will supersede both micro-USB and standard USB in the coming years. Happily, this design is as small as micro-USB and works either way round, just like Lightning.

18 Responses to “Europe’s set to mandate common phone chargers — so where does this leave Apple?”

  1. Paulie Walker

    Where will USB type C fit in to this?

    The reversible nature of type C is desirable. I am not sure if that new connector will have various sizes like current USB but I think it makes sense to have at least two sizes. One very small connector and one larger more robust version.

    Who decides when the whole industry should update connector in use?

    It would seem to me you would need to have two standards in legislature. One legacy one current.

    What happens when we get paper thin electronic devices built with newer tech like graphene?

    I love that there is a standard but I do think there is potential for it to slow innovation.

  2. Angelos Gonias

    The legislation is for the charger only standlising the USB port and fast charge capability signalling. It does not include the cable between the charger and phone which can remain custom. Do some research before writting an article of zero value.

  3. Fascism – like in the US. I’ve owned new Apple computers and an iPhone since the Apple IIC and I’ve DECIDED
    —not to ever buy a new product, only the refurbished ones, and also —never to have a contract on a phone.

    Ever since I found out that I shall NEVER ACTUALLY OWN my iPhone4 from Verizon! NEVER OWN it! This is after I BOUGHT one and completed the Verizon contract. What a betrayal!

  4. Mike Williams

    Apple doesn’t design by being told what to do or what to use.

    I hope this means they will stop selling in Europe.

    It will then be on Europe to explain to their citizens why they can’t have an iPhone.

    Socialism is great. Until it isn’t.

  5. Frank A NYC

    Apple can just throw a cheap adapter in the box and call it a day. If you have a idevice the adapter is irrelevant to you. If you have a android, windows mobile or blackberry you already have a standardized charger in mini usb. What exactly is this law fixing?

    • It’s pro-consumer. There are too many connectors out there. Make a standard and call it a day. Most people would gladly slow down the pace of innovation in order to not end up with piles of odd peripherals and the like.

      • Andre Goulet

        Except, Apple’s connector replaces 2 connectors on most devices, so it’s not a simple USB port. It allows iDevices to be smaller, thinner and cleaner looking. So, it’s not simply a matter of Apple making you buy their adapters, the port really does have other uses.

  6. Laughing_Boy48

    I’d heard Apple would simply supply some dongle adapter that interfaces the Lightning port to mini-USB. It doesn’t seem to be that difficult for Apple to get around. I don’t see anything wrong with EU trying to standardize to make it easier for people to charge their devices. Apple is the only company who does things differently, so it’s in the minority in this case. They couldn’t force every other manufacturer on the planet to change to Lightning connectors even if it were ten times better. Apple will only lose trying to fight this battle.

  7. Is it a charger or just the interface that’s standard?

    If it’s the charger, does it shut down fully or does it have leakage (vampire current) just like any other low end charger?

  8. Problem is with legislation is that it slows down innovation. With a standard charger as law, who wants to spend time and money researching and developing new and better technologies. Occasionally I support the EU’s heavy handed governance. This is not one of those times.

    • So you want that each brand has a specific charger? Remember the Nokia phones, the end was so thin that it broke after several months of use… I think it’s a good idea :) and this way you are sure that anyone can lend you a cable for charging!

      • I already have enough trouble with BlackBerry using the same connector to the charger but with some kind of current detector meaning you can only use BB chargers. I will welcome this interchangeability.

        I moved away from apple because of these annoying connectors and closed OS, only to find BB were as bad. Now with android which means this is less of a problem.

        Next thing is to make sure tablets are included in this so we don’t have to carry extra chargers for these.

        Oh and for me they can spend the R&D wasted in oddball connectors on other power saving technology.