The EU Wants All Phones to Work With Interoperable Chargers, Here’s What That Means for Apple's Lightning Port

Despite pushback from Apple, the European Parliament in January voted overwhelmingly for new rules to establish a common charging standard for mobile device makers across the European Union. This article explores what form the EU laws might ultimately take and how they could affect Apple device users in Europe and elsewhere.

lightning usb c iphone

What Exactly is the EU Calling For?

To reduce cost, electronic waste and make consumers' lives easier, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) want "binding measures" that ensure chargers fit all smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices.

According to a 2019 impact assessment study on common chargers of portable devices conducted by the EU, almost a fifth of people surveyed reported having faced "significant issues" because of non-standard chargers. Such issues included incompatible chargers between devices, variable charging speeds between different chargers, and having to have several chargers available to cover all needs.

In addition, the EU claims that by agreeing on a common charger standard, it will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tons of electronic waste annually.

The recent 582-40 parliamentary vote in favor of a common charging standard came about because the European Commission's previous approach of merely "encouraging" tech companies to develop a standardized solution "fell short of the co-legislators' objectives," according to a briefing on the European Parliament website.

iphone 11 lightning to usb c

How Did the EC's Earlier Approach Play Out?

The European Commission's efforts to establish a common charging standard for smartphones span more than a decade. In 2009, the EC estimated that 500 million mobile phones were in use in all EU countries. It found that the chargers used often varied according to the manufacturer and model, and that more than 30 different types of chargers were on the market.

In a bid to harmonize standards, the EC negotiated a 2009 Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by 14 tech companies including Apple, Samsung, Nokia, and other prominent smartphone manufacturers.

According to the MoU, phone makers agreed to adopt a micro-USB connector standard for smartphone chargers in the European Union that would allow full charging compatibility with mobile phones to be placed on the market.

The plan was for new phones to be sold with micro-USB chargers for a period of time, after which phones and chargers would be sold separately in order to allow customers who already owned chargers to continue using their existing ones.

There was considerable speculation about whether Apple would be able to meet the requirements of the micro-USB standard. At the time, Apple used a proprietary 30-pin dock connector compatible with both the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

However, the wording of the MoU offered Apple a loophole: For those phones that did not have a USB micro-B interface, an adapter was allowed under the agreed terms. And that's exactly what Apple did. In 2012, Apple introduced the ‌iPhone‌ 5 with a new Lightning proprietary connector to replace its 30-pin connector, and additionally offered a separate Lightning to micro USB adapter to comply with the 2009 EU agreement.

lightning to micro usb adapter

Apple's micro-USB to Lightning adapter

Consequently, Apple ultimately wasn't required to abandon its proprietary connector or include a separate micro-USB interface directly on the device for charging purposes.

Why Was the 2009 MoU Considered a Failure?

A progress report provided by the MoU signatories in February 2013 indicated that 90 percent of the new devices placed on the market by the signatories and other manufacturers by the end of 2012 supported the common charging capability. But that statistic was so high only because it took into account the fact that Apple offered a Lightning to micro-USB adapter.

One member of the Commission would note: "The perception among the citizens and the European Parliament is that the common charger does not really exist, and looking at what we find among the most popular smartphones, we have to agree with them. The future MoU must be clear in its outcome, we cannot afford to admit adaptors."

The lack of progress frustrated the Commission, and in 2014, the European parliament passed the Radio Equipment Directive, which called for a "renewed effort to develop a common charger." The directive gave the commission the power to directly set technical standards by means of a delegated act – in this case, a legislative act implementing EU rules.

By 2016, the Commission acknowledged that micro-USB had become dated and that USB-C had become the de facto standard across most devices. The Commission was advised by MoU facilitators that all manufacturers were ready to sign a new agreement in line with different approaches but keeping the solution of using solely USB-C connectors – except Apple.

lightningcableandadapter

Why is Apple Against the Idea of a Common Charger?

In 2016, Apple supported the adoption of USB-C as a standardized interface at the power source (i.e. the charging plug), but remained against conforming to a standard on devices themselves. The company argued that conforming to a device-side standard would cost it up to €2 billion and hamper innovation, largely based on the claim that iPhones were too thin to house a USB-C port.

Apple even commissioned a study by Copenhagen Economics outlining the potential consumer harm from a mandatory move towards a common charger.

The study concluded that it would cost consumers €1.5 billion if common charger rules became law, outweighing the €13 million associated with environmental benefits. The study also claimed that 49 percent of EU households rely on different types of chargers, but only 0.4 percent of those households experience any significant issues.

Apple's stance on the issue left the Commission deadlocked, but in 2018 the Commission agreed to continue working with manufacturers in order to achieve a suitable voluntary agreement. However, a year later the Commission concluded that its previous voluntary approach and the new MoU still allowed manufacturers to use adaptors with proprietary solutions and would not result in full charger harmonization.

Apple chargers

Where Does the EU Go From Here?

In response to the Commission's 2019 impact assessment on common chargers, Apple said regulations that would force all smartphones to have the same charging port would "freeze innovation," be "bad for the environment," and be "unnecessarily disruptive for customers."

More than 1 billion Apple devices have shipped using a Lightning connector in addition to an entire ecosystem of accessory and device manufacturers who use Lightning to serve our collective customers. We want to ensure that any new legislation will not result in the shipment of any unnecessary cables or external adaptors with every device, or render obsolete the devices and accessories used by many millions of Europeans and hundreds of millions of Apple customers worldwide. This would result in an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconvenience users. To be forced to disrupt this huge market of customers will have consequences far beyond the stated aims of the Commission.

The EU parliament's January 2020 vote on the matter was overwhelmingly in favor of bringing in rules to standardize chargers, but the manner in which it plans to enforce them is anything but clear. The Commission's impact assessment laid out several possible options for the proposed legislation:

Screenshot

  • Option 0: Cables can have either a USB-C or a proprietary connector at the device end, and adapters continue to be available for purchase (the current status quo).
  • Option 1: Cables must have a USB-C port at the device end (effectively outlawing Apple's Lightning connector).
  • Option 2: Cables must have a USB-C port at the device end, or any manufacturers that wish to use a proprietary port on their device must include an adapter from USB-C to the proprietary connector (in Apple's case, a USB-C to Lightning adapter) plus a USB-C AC power plug.
  • Option 3: Cables can have either a USB-C or a proprietary connector at the device end. Manufacturers that choose to use a proprietary connector must include a USB-C AC power plug in the box (Apple provides a USB-C AC power plug, but the ‌iPhone‌ can continue to have a Lightning connector).
  • Option 4: All connectors at both the device-end and on the AC power plug must have USB-C interoperability (Apple must make USB-C chargers).
  • Option 5: All connectors at the device-end must be USB-C and manufacturers must include a new fast-charging 15W+ AC power plug (Apple must make a USB-PD-compliant power plug).

In considering wireless charging as a potential solution, the Commission concluded that it was an "incipient technology" with around 60 percent energy efficiency, whereas wired technologies are close to 100 percent efficiency.

belkinboldwirelesschargers
Overall, the Commission's impact assessment suggests the most effective approach would be to pursue option 1 (common connectors) in combination with option 4 (interoperable external power supply). If the Commission were to go with this recommendation, Apple would no longer be able to make new mobile devices that use its proprietary Lightning connector. But whether the Commission accepts the recommendation of its impact assessment and enshrines it in EU law remains to be seen.

Can the Initiative Work?

The EU initiative aims to limit fragmentation of the charging solutions on the market without hampering future technological innovation. By standardizing chargers, it hopes to lower prices and increase quality, therefore reducing the presence of counterfeit chargers and increasing user safety.

It also expects a reduction/minimization of e-waste, by reducing the necessity to purchase different types of chargers and by giving the possibility to reuse already owned ones. This would also increase consumer convenience, argues the impact assessment, since users would be able to charge not only mobile phones "but potentially also other portable devices with a common cable (and charger), as well as being offered the option of retaining existing chargers and purchasing mobile phones without chargers for a lower price."

iphone 8 usb c wall charger
It is unknown whether any changes Apple might have to make to comply with the European regulations will also be made in other markets around the world, for financial or practical reasons. Regardless, however the proposed legislation plays out, all the signs are that Apple's stance will remain firm and it will continue to lobby against the EU's intention to regulate the market.

"We do not believe there is a case for regulation given the industry is already moving to the use of USB Type-C through a connector or cable assembly," said Apple following the recent parliamentary vote. "This includes Apple's USB-C power adapter which is compatible with all ‌iPhone‌ and ‌iPad‌ devices. This approach is more affordable and convenient for consumers, enables charging for a wide range of portable electronic products, encourages people to re-use their charger and allows for innovation."

Top Rated Comments

cmaier Avatar
22 months ago
Seems like a good idea until someone comes up with an amazing new connector that supports fantastic new features, and the whole world can have it except for Europe.
Score: 70 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Zaft Avatar
22 months ago
USB C being too big for iPhones is laughable.
Score: 57 Votes (Like | Disagree)
now i see it Avatar
22 months ago
And to reduce clutter & waste..
Everyone should drink the same beer and eat the same chips and drive the same car & ride the same bike and live in identical houses and have 1.2 children - Where does it stop?
Score: 57 Votes (Like | Disagree)
zorinlynx Avatar
22 months ago
It'd be nice if the EU regulations would ban having wireless charging as the only option. This is something idiotic that Apple would likely try to do eventually, given their obsession with eliminating wires. While wireless charging is convenient, it's also inefficient and should never be the ONLY option. Imagine charging with a portable power bank and losing almost half the energy as heat because you can only charge wirelessly.
Score: 55 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Planey28 Avatar
22 months ago
How DARE they try to reduce e-waste, make charging cables universal and make the customer experience better in one FOUL swoop. The NERVE OF IT!
Score: 55 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cmaier Avatar
22 months ago

I wish Apple would just be honest and admit they don’t want to change because they want to have crap their own way. Sucks to suck. I’m glad they’re trying to push for a common port on all devices. Literally my iPhone is the only thing I have to carry an extra cable for. That’s a problem.

I swear, the only reason I’m still with an iPhone is because of the whole blue vs green messages nonsense.
They’ve admitted it. They want to be able to have things their own way - if they decide that the best iphone is an iphone with no ports, they don’t want to be stuck making ones with ports for the EU. If they decide that some new connector is fantastic, they don’t want to be prevented from innovating.

That’s what the EU is doing here - they are locking technology to what it is currently and preventing future innovations. They started dicking with this ten years ago. You can bet that when apple comes out with the next great thing in the Americas and Asia, it will take the EU politicians 10 years to update their law to allow out.



Why don't Apple just make the switch already. Their fan base has been asking for USB-C for years across all devices. It's really simple.
No they haven’t. Many of us prefer lightning because it is more reliable (doesn’t get loose), smaller, and easier to insert.
Score: 38 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
airtag in hand

Apple Enhancing AirTags Anti-Stalking Measures With Android App and Shorter Sound Intervals

Thursday June 3, 2021 11:10 am PDT by
Apple is enhancing AirTags security to prevent stalking using the Bluetooth devices, Apple told CNET today. Apple is already sending out over-the-air updates to AirTags that will shorten the amount of time before an unknown AirTag alerts you if it is in your possession. At the current time, AirTags play a sound after three days of being away from their owner. After the update, AirTags will...
maxresdefault

Here's How Apple's New iPhone to iPhone Data Migration Feature Works in iOS 12.4

Tuesday July 23, 2019 1:20 pm PDT by
Apple this week released iOS 12.4, the newest version of iOS 12 available for iPhones and iPads. One of the new features in iOS 12.4 is an updated data migration option that uses device to device transfers rather than relying on iCloud. Apple didn't provide much information on the new data migration feature, so we thought we'd check it out in our latest YouTube video. Subscribe to the ...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
tmobilelogo

T-Mobile Data Breach Included Personal Information of Almost 50 Million Customers

Wednesday August 18, 2021 5:41 am PDT by
T-Mobile has issued a statement with further details about a cyberattack that the company confirmed earlier this week, confirming that the data breach included the personal information of almost 50 million current, former, and prospective customers. Late last week, T-Mobile confirmed that a forum post that purported to offer data from more than 100 million people was the result of a company...
airtag precision finding

AirTag Includes U1 Chip for 'Precision Finding' Feature

Tuesday April 20, 2021 12:11 pm PDT by
Apple's long-awaited AirTag was finally unveiled today, and as expected, the small circle-shaped accessories can be attached to items like wallets, keys, and more to allow them to be tracked in the Find My app. As was rumored ahead of release, each AirTag is equipped with a U1 chip, and on devices that also have U1 chips, there's a Precision Finding feature. U1 Ultra Wideband chips are...
m1 macbook air

Kuo: Mini-LED MacBook Air Coming in Mid-2022

Thursday July 22, 2021 7:48 pm PDT by
Apple will release a new version of the MacBook Air around the middle of 2022, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in note to investors seen by MacRumors. The upcoming MacBook Air will feature a 13.3-inch mini-LED display, which would make it the second Mac to gain mini-LED technology after the 2021 MacBook Pro, which is rumored to include a mini-LED display and is expected to launch later ...
Apple Films Tom Hanks Finch First Look

Apple Original Film 'Finch' Starring Tom Hanks to Premiere November 5

Thursday August 12, 2021 8:52 am PDT by
Apple today announced that the original film "Finch," starring Tom Hanks in its titular role, will premiere on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 5 and shared a first-look image from the film. The first look at "Finch," shared by Apple. The film, which is anticipated to be an awards season contender, revolves around a man, a robot (played by "Get Out" actor Caleb Landry Jones), and a dog that form ...
2016 macbook pro flexgate b

Apple Faces Another Class-Action MacBook Pro ‘Flexgate’ Lawsuit

Thursday August 20, 2020 6:43 am PDT by
Another class-action complaint has been lodged against Apple, which claims that the company was aware of a MacBook Pro design flaw that caused some devices to have backlight display issues (via Apple Insider). The so-called "flexgate" problem was present in some MacBook Pro models manufactured between 2016 and 2017. The problem appears as dark patches along the bottom of the MacBook Pro's...
macbook air m1 first benchmark

Apple Silicon M1 Chip in MacBook Air Outperforms High-End 16-Inch MacBook Pro

Wednesday November 11, 2020 4:43 pm PST by
Apple introduced the first MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini with M1 Apple Silicon chips yesterday, and as of today, the first benchmark of the new chip appears to be showing up on the Geekbench site. The M1 chip, which belongs to a MacBook Air with 8GB RAM, features a single-core score of 1687 and a multi-core score of 7433. According to the benchmark, the M1 has a 3.2GHz base...