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

iPod touch Lightning port

This should be fun – the European Union is almost certain to force mobile device manufacturers, Apple 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.

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