Tough news for Apple as EU makes USB-C common charging port for most electronic devices

Commissioner to device makers: 'We're not forcing anybody to enter the internal market, but if they want to do so, they must comply'

Apple will have to redesign its phones to include a USB-C charging port in iPhones it sells into Europe by 2024 after an EU amendment made USB-C the common standard across a range of devices.

In a live press conference, the rapporteur on the issue, Maltese MP Alex Agius Saliba, said: "This is a rule which will apply to everyone. Now it's no more a Memorandum of Understanding and having all the leeway that [Apple] had during the past 10 years – basically to not abide by this MoU – which was abided by the majority of manufacturers. So yes, Apple has to abide."

The single charging solution will be implemented as part of the amended Radio Equipment Directive, nine months after the legislative proposal was first tabled in September 2021.

Under the new rules, manufacturers wishing to sell smartphones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld video game consoles, and portable speakers (charged via wired cable) in the single market will have to ensure they are equipped with a USB Type-C port.

Companies have 24 months before the directive's provisions kick in, and they wouldn't apply to any devices placed in the market before autumn 2024. The smartphone move will impact Apple in particular as most of the Android handset manufacturers have already made the move to USB-C.

Laptop manufacturers have 40 months after the agreement is published in the EU Official Journal (which happens in about three weeks). Apple has already rolled out USB-C charging for its later models of MacBooks and iPads, so this part of the edict will predominantly affect other laptop manufacturers.

Speaking at today's press conference, Saliba added: "In two years' time, if Apple wants to market their products, sell their products within our internal markets, they have to abide by our rules, and their receptacle device has to be USB-C."

One charger to rule them all

"This is not a common charger only for smartphones, but for a list of 15 different products. Laptops, headsets, earbuds… We have been pushing for this for more than 10 years," Saliba said.

"The raison d'être? [Fewer] chargers for our consumers... a fairer deal to our environment, because ultimately we generate 13,000 to 15,000 tonnes of electronic waste of chargers that we barely ever use. One in three chargers that is bundled with these products are never opened."

Apple has previously claimed such a move would further compound the electronic waste issue because it would mean the existing Lighting cables and chargers owned by Apple users would be trashed. Apple also said it would harm its bottom line innovation, a notion the EU Commissioner for internal markets, Thierry Breton, was quick to refute.

The former CEO of France Télécom told reporters: "I was a company director, and I always perceived (restrictions) do not stop innovation. And they will innovate, according to the rules. Particularly to protect the interests of our consumers, particularly to protect our environment, and protect our internal market."

He added: "The rule applies to all and sundry – it's not adopted against anybody. We're working for the consumers, not the companies, and we have to give them rules… We're not forcing anybody to enter the internal market, but if they want to do so, they must comply.

"We are 450 million inhabitants in Europe, we are offering our market. The message I want to get across is that rather than lobbying, they should come and see us... They wanted to interfere, they wanted to intervene. But we're here to defend the general interest."

It's another win for Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who noted a few weeks back: "USB-C could improve iPhone's transfer and charging speed in hardware designs, but the final spec details still depend on iOS support."

Apple refused to comment. ®

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