Apple has been using Lightning since the iPhone 5 which is quite a long while back. During that time, most Android and even Blackberry devices were using MicroUSB and later migrated to USB-C. Apple has been nothing but lightning. This is something that the EU is not happy with saying it’s inconveniencing consumers and contributing to e-waste.
These new obligations will lead to more re-use of chargers and will help consumers save up to 250 million euro a year on unnecessary charger purchases. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually.European Commission
European Commission’s reasoning
They are focusing on 2 subject matters: E-waste and convenience. With e-waste, it is said that each new device purchase is coming in with the need for a new charger leading to the old one getting tossed. I do not think this is the biggest reason why old chargers a tossed. My thinking is it’s mostly worn out and dead cables as well as the variety of charging standards that exist. Bringing me to the convenience side.
Almost every manufacturer has a charging standard that only provides maximum charging speed if the device is using a specific charger and cable combination. This does pose some inconvenience for some users. An example is that a Huawei Mate 40 Pro can charge rapidly at 66W if you use the specific Huawei charger and cable. If you use any other charger and cable it will default to 10W which is considered basic to slow charge speed. In some cases, it may even refuse to charge.
Another reverse case is when I tried using a OnePlus DashCharge USB-C cable with a Samsung fast charger on an LG G6. It actually didn’t even charge. It would charge in pulses which didn’t add any juice to the battery. Pretty inconvenient even amongst fellow Android devices. So they are on to something on convenience. Even though it looks like Apple has the most to lose here, it’s a piece of legislation that will impact the whole portable electronics industry.
Breaking down the USB-C directive
Basically, the EU commission wishes to achieve 2 things. Ensure all portable consumer electronic devices that support wired charging will use a USB-C connector and that they will support USB-PD (USB-PowerDelivery) as the charging protocol.
The first requirement is pretty simple. Let’s all use the USB-C port for charging and data transfer. It’s not a big deal because a majority of electronics manufacturers had already switched to the USB-C port apart from the iPhone and a number of Digital Cameras. The list of devices expected to switch to USB-C looks like this.
- Rechargeable headsets (Headphones, earphones, buds)
- Digital cameras
- Portable Speakers
- Portable gaming consoles
As for the second requirement, we are looking at the charging protocol/standard. On top of USB-C ports, all these devices should support the USB-C PowerDelivery standard. What this will help with is ensuring that any charger and cable can adequately deliver power to any of the USB-C devices for charging. This will apply to all devices that meet or exceed these specifications. Charging voltage of 5V, Charging current of 3A, or charging power of 15W or more.
The charging speed is also harmonised for devices that support fast charging, allowing users to charge their devices at the same speed with any compatible charger.European Commission
Right now we have a cocktail of charging standards that are not interoperable across different manufacturers.
- Qualcomm QuickCharge
- Oppo VOOC/OnePlus DashCharge
- Huawei SuperCharge
- Xiaomi HyperCharge
- USB Power Delivery
- RealMe UltraDart charge
- Tecno Super Charge
So almost every manufacturer has some proprietary tech for fast charging meaning if you switch brands you will most likely need a new charger. The EU Commission is pushing for all of them to support Power Delivery. But they are being flexible in that they are not restricting any manufacturer to the USB Power Delivery standard so innovation in ridiculously fast charging tech can remain as it were.
Interesting though that some OEMs already switched to USB-PD a while back. Sony and Google in particular.
Chargers will be absent in a lot more boxes
Let’s look at the elements of the matter. All portable electronic devices will be using:
- The same port (USB-C)
- The same charging standard (USB PowerDelivery)
- The same charging speed (Universal protocol and standard)
All this means is that these devices will use the exact charger. And because they will be using the same charger, they will work with any device. Once this becomes the case then smartphones are not going to be the only devices sold without chargers. Everything else on the list of devices forced to switch to USB-C will come with nothing but the device you bought.
The transition is going to be painful. I mean in Africa, some consumers are still livid at the fact that some smartphones are no longer coming with earphones in the box and are utterly enraged that on top of that some smartphones don’t even come with a charger in the box! In Brazil, the government even stepped in telling apple that it is not allowed to sell a single smartphone until it puts the charger back in the box.
Not everyone is convinced of the e-waste issue, especially on chargers and cables. I honestly think a majority of charger-specific e-waste is more of a result of cables and chargers dying than it is of people binning their old chargers when they buy a new gadget. If these new set of regulations also included durability specifications of charging bricks and cables I think that could provide a much bigger impact on e-waste.
How bad is this for Apple?
It’s actually not that bad. The iPhone and AirPods are the only devices that still make do with their proprietary lighting port. iPads and MacBooks already use the USB-C port. So they are familiar with working with it. The biggest problem is that lightning is such an old standard and for 2022 the data transfer speeds are now falling behind the competition. Not that it matters to those in the Apple ecosystem because of Airdrop.
Which seems to be Apple’s focus right now. They have been working on removing ports and any sort of holes on their smartphones for a while now. They never used SDcards and so they never had a memory card slot. On the iPhone 7, they eliminated the headphone jack, and just this year they eliminated the sim tray altogether making all US iPhone 14s e-sim only.
So it won’t be a surprise if the iPhone 16 comes without any ports and exclusively uses MagSafe wireless charging. Since they already have a very efficient wireless data transfer system in the form of Airdrop, as well as a wireless charging solution that performs just as well as their wired option, it’s not a future that is that far off for them. But the EU is also coming for wireless charging standards.