What the new EU USB-C rules mean for the iPhone

European Union lawmakers this week approved new proposals to force manufacturers of everything from smartphones and headphones to digital cameras and tablets to use the same universal charging port: USB Type-C. The plan is for the new rules to go into effect by the fall of 2024, after which those devices that charge with a wired cable will need to do so via a built-in USB-C port.

The biggest impact of this legislation is likely to land on Apple’s iPhone. While the rest of the smartphone industry has gradually converged on USB-C as a single, unified wired charging port, Apple has stayed firm with Lightning, the proprietary connector it introduced with the iPhone 5 in 2012. EU legislation could finally force it to move forward.

The EU rules are only a temporary agreement for now and will need approval by both the European Council and the European Parliament before they can become official. This is expected to happen after the summer vacation, which ends on the 1st of September. It will take effect after 20 days, and most manufacturers will have 24 months to comply, which is where the fall 2024 compliance date comes from. The exception is laptops because the type of high-power USB-C chargers these devices require are less common than phone chargers. They will instead have 40 months, which brings us roughly to the start of 2026.

If Apple wants the iPhone to have a physical charging port after the fall of 2024, the European Union wants USB-C to be its only option. It simply cannot offer an external dongle as it did a decade ago. The latest public draft of the proposed legislation specifies that a USB Type-C connector used for charging must remain “available and working at all times,” meaning it is unlikely to break a detachable dongle. This is because EU rules are designed to scale down E-waste, with a global charging standard hopefully means more chargers can be reused instead of ending up in landfills. The European Union estimates that the rules could cut 11,000 metric tons (more than 12,000 tons) of e-waste annually and save customers €250 million (about US$268 million) on “non-essential shipper purchases”.

New flagship iPhones tend to be announced in September each year, which means Apple’s 2024 iPhone lineup (which will likely be called the iPhone 16) will launch as soon as the legislation goes into effect. But the rules state that “there should be no products on the market that are incompatible” with the directive, says Deslava Dimitrova, a spokesman for the European Parliament. This means that Apple may want to make the changes sooner, as it will have to modify or withdraw older models from the market. Apple usually continues to sell older models for several years at a lower price.

There are already reports that the iPhone maker could make the change next year. Last month, famous Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reported that Apple could be ready to make the switch as early as 2023. Days later Bloomberg Mark Gorman endorsed this report and said that Apple was already testing iPhones with the connector. If accurate, these reports suggest we may see an iPhone with a USB-C port a year before new EU rules come into effect.

Of course, the European Union cannot force Apple to make the change worldwide. But any iPhones sold in the EU’s single market must adhere to these rules. Over the course of fiscal year 2021, nearly a quarter of Apple’s net sales came from Europe, and the iPhone was the best-selling product worldwide. The market is simply too lucrative for Apple to forgo legislation like this. Apple could make USB-C iPhones and ship them exclusively to the European Union, but given Apple’s focus on supply chain efficiency which sees it sell a limited selection of very similar devices around the world (with only two special models as an exception), that approach seems unlikely.

An Apple spokesperson declined to answer questions about how the company intends to comply with the upcoming legislation.

There’s at least one way Apple can avoid having to charge the USB-C ports on its phones, thanks to wireless charging. Current EU legislation is only concerned with wired charging, so if The phone used to only charge wirelessly, and it could completely avoid EU charging coordination rules.

It’s a theoretical distinction since non-mobile phones don’t really exist outside the realms of concept phones and advertising. But it’s important given the rumors that Apple is considering going down this path with the iPhone. These rumors have been circulating since Apple introduced the MagSafe wireless charging standard with the iPhone 12 line. Those rumors have fizzled out recently, however, and the decision to stick with wired charging may explain why Apple has been relatively uninterested in building an ecosystem of MagSafe accessories.

Apple has resisted European Union attempts to standardize around USB-C. In comments submitted to the European Commission last year, the company argued that the regulations could slow “the introduction of beneficial innovations in shipping standards, including those related to safety and energy efficiency.” She also said the new rules could increase e-waste in the short term “by causing existing cables and accessories to be disposed of”. her point of view. With an estimated 1 billion iPhones in use worldwide as of early 2021, this Many Chargers that will become redundant over time. And all of these customers will need new USB-C accessories to replace them.

Apple’s iPhone 5 (pictured) was the first device with a Lightning port.
Photo: edge

As my former colleague Chaim Gartenberg wrote last year, Apple’s concerns can have as much to do with Apple’s bottom line as they do with e-waste or innovation. Since Lightning is a proprietary connector, any accessory manufacturer that wants to support it must go through the Apple MFi program, which allows Apple to capture a portion of the lucrative iPhone accessory market.

The irony is that despite its opposition to putting a USB-C port on its phones, Apple has been one of the biggest champions of USB-C across other device classes. On the laptop side of its business, the company got its start with USB-C in 2015 when it released a MacBook that featured a single USB-C port along with a headphone jack. If anything, Apple has embraced USB-C very quickly, forcing the much-mocked “dongle life” on users around the world. Apple has also brought USB-C to a growing number of iPads, such as the iPad Pro and most recently the iPad Air.

(As a side note: Although devices covered by EU rules must be able to charge via USB-C, they don’t have to use this as a Just Shipping forms. This means that MacBooks that ship via MagSafe – the laptop version – are still free to do so, as long as their USB-C ports can also charge them. This is already the case with Apple’s latest MacBooks).

If the legislation goes into effect in its current form, it won’t be the iPhone that Apple will have to switch from Lightning to USB-C in the EU. According to a press release from the European Council, headphones, earphones, wireless mice and wireless keyboards are all required to use USB-C for wired charging. This will cover AirPods Max, AirPods, Magic Mouse, and Magic Keyboard, all of which currently use Lightning.

In addition to requiring smartphone manufacturers to use a physical USB-C port, the European Union also plans to standardize fast charging across phones, as Apple has begun to fall behind its Android competitors. The iPhone 13 Pro Max reported charging at less than 30W, while Samsung’s USB PD-compatible Galaxy S22 devices can extend up to 45W. The European Union hopes to standardize wireless charging in the future as well.

The new EU legislation is still far from becoming law. It must be completed at a technical level and voted on by both the European Parliament and the European Council. But between it and the Digital Markets Act, whose provisions include requiring iMessage to handle other smaller messaging platforms as well as requiring Apple to allow third-party app stores on the iPhone, the organization is forcing major changes at Apple. And the iPhone maker will have no choice but to play if it wants to continue to tap one of its biggest markets.

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