EU wants one phone plug to rule them all. But we've got a better idea.

Roll your sleeves up, standards peeps


Comment European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has lost patience with phone makers insisting on using different connector designs for charging, and promised an impact study on the consumer pain that Lightning and USB causes.

Vestager confirmed the policy in a Parliament Answer this month.

In 2011, in response to pressure from the Commission, the industry declared that it was standardising on one charging design.

"Incompatibility of mobile phone chargers causes not only inconveniences for users, but is also an important environmental issue in the European Union. Mobile phone users who wish to replace their mobile phones are often required to purchase a new charger, regardless of the condition of the existing one," the Commission declared in 2011.

This design turned out to be the unloveable, asymmetrical MicroUSB, and while Apple was a signatory to the MoU, the following year it launched its next-gen proprietary charging port, Lightning. As you would.

Since then, MicroUSB has been superseded by USB Type-C, which has its own issues, but which even Apple supports - in computers, but not phones and tablets.

More importantly, the problem is now largely moot, because the charger has been decoupled from the connector port. You can use an Apple iPhone charger to power a non-Apple phone, using a non-Apple cable, and vice versa - although any proprietary fast charging method will not work.

And that, rather than connector design, is where the global standards bodies - in this case the International Electrotechnical Commission - and the EU could do some useful work.

USB is a pig's ear

The problem is that combinations of cables lead to unexpected results. To use the Qualcomm, Mediatek, Huawei and BKK (OnePlus, Vivo, OPPO brands) rapid charging you need to ensure the cable conforms to the standard. Mixing and matching typically ends in disappointment: the phone will charge, but not at the rapid rate advertised.

And if you try and power a phone from a USB 3 or Thunderbolt laptop port, it gets even messier, as Robert Triggs explains here.

You can't tell from looking at a cable what power throughput it supports, and that's a classic case of where labelling benefits the consumer.

Here's where the little-known global standards bodies - the places where global technical standards are defined - come in to play. In 2016 the IEC defined the specs in a document IEC 63002:2016. Which you can read here.

It's up to the commercial end of the industry to agree on easy to understand labels, and the regional bureaucratic blocks (like the EU) to enforce them. So Apple would certify that its plug and cable support "Blue speeds", for example. Wouldn't that be handy?

It wouldn't sort the eternal war between Apple proprietary plug and USB - but with more than 80 per cent of the world using non-Apple phones, it would go a long way to ending charging confusion.

And it's far more achievable than trying to cajole global companies to adopt a particular design or technology - particularly if one of those being cajoled is Apple. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021