EU seeks common charger for all phones, hurting Apple

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The European Union on Thursday unveiled plans to make USB-C connectors the standard charging port for all smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices sold across the bloc, an initiative it says will reduce environmental waste but which should hit Apple the hardest.

The move would represent a long-awaited, but aggressive, step in product manufacturing decisions by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. Apple, whose iPhones have a different port, has long opposed the project, arguing that it would stifle innovation and lead to more e-waste, as all current chargers that aren’t USB-C would become obsolete.

The new legislation is expected to come into force in 2024 as it must first be approved by the European Parliament and then passed by manufacturers. Besides phones, this would apply to cameras, headphones, portable speakers, and video game consoles.

Wireless chargers would not be affected, but the main change would be iPhones, which currently have a proprietary Lightning charging port.

“What do we offer? More freedom, less costs ”, and less electronic waste, declared Thursday Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Trade, during a press conference.

Many lawmakers in the European Parliament have welcomed the announcement. “It is completely absurd to ask Europeans to pay for a new charger every time, when our drawers are full of them,” said Saskia Bricmont, a green MP.

It also received quick reviews from some tech observers. “It’s a deeply stupid way to approach product design and standardization,” said technical analyst Benedict Evans. Twitter. “What happens in 5 years when someone wants to use a better connector? “

However, if the legislation is enacted as proposed by the European Commission, it would become illegal to sell an electronic device without a USB-C charging port. Apple is expected to switch to USB-C for its products sold across the block, a commission official said, noting that it is already selling new iPads with such charging ports.

The legislative proposal is the latest setback for Apple in Europe, which has been accused by European Union regulators of maintaining unfair fees on competing music streaming services like Spotify which depend on the App Store to reach customers. It also faces an investigation into its Apple Pay service, which is the only payment service available on Apple products and which EU officials say could violate the bloc’s competition rules.

Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, called the EU proposal a “punch to Apple” that would force the company to adapt its design and supply chain, and cost up to ‘to $ 1 billion.

“It takes the battle between Apple and the European Union to the next level,” Ives said. “It’s like forcing Netflix to provide VCR screening in addition to streaming. “

European Union officials and European Parliament lawmakers have been advocating a common charger since 2009, when there were more than 30 charging options on the market, now at three. They argued that fewer wires would be more convenient for users and better for the environment, as cell phone chargers would be responsible for 11,000 tonnes of electronic waste per year across the bloc, according to European Commission estimates. , the EU executive. arm who introduced the legislation on Thursday.

But Apple also argued that if the European Union had imposed a common charger in 2009, it would have restricted the innovation that led to USB-C and Lightning connectors. In a statement, Apple said that while it welcomes the European Commission’s commitment to protecting the environment, it prefers a solution that leaves the device side of the charging interface open for innovation.

Mr Breton said Thursday he was aware of Apple’s concerns. “Every time we try to come up with a proposal, these companies start to say, ‘This will be against innovation,’ he said.

“It’s not against innovation at all, it’s not against anyone,” he added. “It’s for European consumers.

Mr Breton said manufacturers, including Apple, could choose to offer two charging ports on their devices if they wanted to keep a non-USB-C connector. But that’s highly unlikely, as one of Apple’s main arguments in favor of its Lightning connector has been its small size on iPhones.

“The time it took to move forward on this project says a lot about the power of Apple, which so far has managed to delay the process as all other manufacturers have agreed to use micro USB connectors. B, and now USB-C, “said EU lawmaker Mrs Bricmont.

But critics have also accused the European Union’s action comes too late, due to the decline in connector types in recent years. Half of the charging cables sold with cellphones in 2018 had a micro-B USB connector, while 29% had a USB-C connector and 21% a Lightning connector, according to a study released by the European Commission in 2019. The Share of USB-C Charging ports have probably increased since then, as most Android phones now come with it.

The European Commission has said it will also require manufacturers to sell devices without a charger: if a bundled option remains available, an unbundled option of the same product will have to be offered, she said.

Adam satariano contributed reports.



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