One-size-fits-all chargers? What a great idea! Of course Apple would hate it

Cupertino thinks EU USB-C plan 'stifles innovation rather than encouraging it'


Updated Smartphones, tablets, and cameras sold within the European Union could be forced to adopt a single standard charging port by the middle of the decade if the latest plans from the European Commission get the go-ahead.

The proposals for a revised Radio Equipment Directive would mean that charging port and fast-charging technology would be "harmonised" across the EU with USB-C becoming the standard for all tech. Quite where this leaves Apple is open to some debate.

Plans to standardise chargers were hatched all the way back in 2011 and by 2014 MicroUSB was the connector design chosen. Vendors signed an MoU but Cupertino went its own way.

Under the EU's latest effort, the proposal will be legally binding. A bloc-wide common charging standard was put to MEPs in January 2020 and the measure passed by 582 votes to 40, with 37 abstentions.

Today's announcement also means that chargers would no longer be sold with gadgets and gizmos. The EU calculated seven years ago that 51,000 metric tons of electronics waste across the nation states was attributed annually to old chargers, although that number seems to have fallen dramatically since.

Eurocrats today claimed they've spent years working with the industry to rationalise the number of mobile phone charger types from 30 to three within the last decade.

According to Brussels, this is still not good enough as it continues its bid to make life easier for consumers while cutting waste associated with production and disposal of chargers. It claimed that for each year: €2.4bn is spent by consumers on standalone chargers; 11,000 tonnes of ewaste is caused by disposed and unused chargers; and just two out of three chargers owned are used by consumers.

The expected result is that the people living in the bloc will collectively save €250m annually on unnecesary charger purchases, and this is projected to reduce e-waste by almost a thousand tonnes per year.

The direction of travel, however, has flagged concerns for Apple – not for the first time – which appears displeased at being steamrolled into making changes. El Reg understands the tech giant is concerned about the impact this would have on Apple's bottom line the industry and create waste (in the short term at least).

Indeed, there are also concerns that if the rules are introduced too quickly it could mean that perfectly good tech with plenty of shelf life gets dumped prematurely.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Apple told The Reg – you heard that right – that while it "shares the European Commission's commitment to protecting the environment," it remains "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."

Nevertheless, the EU is prepared to plough on.

In a statement, Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, said:

"European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers. We gave the industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger. This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions."

No one from the UK government was available at the time of writing to comment on the possible implications – if any – for Britain, which did an "Apple" and went its own way recently. ®

Updated on 24 September 2021 to add

UK.gov has been in touch to say: “We are aware of the proposal of the EU to require a common charging solution for mobile phones for environmental reasons. ​The UK Government is not currently considering replicating this requirement.”

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