What the EU mandate for a common smartphone charger means

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in General Discussion
Over strong objections from Apple, the European Union is pressing ahead with plans to make all manufacturers use the same chargers -- at least within the EU. Here's what's really been decided and what impact it will have on users.

Lightning on an iPhone


When the European Parliament voted on Thursday to establish a common charging standard for mobile devices, it represented just the latest in a decade-long effort. As clear-cut as the 582-40 parliamentary vote was, too, it's also only the start of this latest step -- and it will only affect Europe.

Europe's aim

At the heart of the European Commission's plans are a desire to improve convenience for consumers, and radically cut what it sees as the considerable electronic waste from the disposal of discarded chargers.

According to its 225-page "Impact Assessment Study on Common Chargers of Portable Devices" document, 15% to 20% of people surveyed reported having faced "significant issues" because of non-standard chargers.

These included times when available chargers were incompatible, or when charging fast not as fast with some devices and chargers as with others. It also included how respondents said that they had many such chargers that were taking up space.

How we got here

The current pressure to create a standard comes after a 2009 "Memorandum of Understanding," which was signed by many vendors including Apple, Samsung and Nokia.

"The signatories agreed to develop a common specification based on the USB 2.0 micro-B interface, which wold allow full charging compatibility with mobile phones to be placed on the market," recounts the Impact document. "For those phones that did not have a USB micro-B interface, an adapter was allowed under the terms of the MoU."

That 2009 MoU expired in 2014 and while the smartphone industry proposed a new equivalent in 2018, the European Commission rejected that because by then USB-C was becoming more prevalent.

The significant point about that 2009 common specification, though, was in the wording about adapters. According to the EC, a survey done in 2014 showed overwhelming success with 99% of all smartphones being compliant -- but only because Apple was counted since it provided an adapter.

Apple introduced a Lightning to micro USB adapter specifically to comply with a 2009 EU agreement
Apple introduced a Lightning to micro USB adapter specifically to comply with a 2009 EU agreement


You may never have seen or known of it, but there was a Lighting to USB 2.0 micro-B adapter, which Apple introduced in 2012 specifically to comply with the agreement.

The adapter was introduced first in Europe alongside the iPhone 5.

Mixed results

The 2009 MoU was a success only if you count the ability of vendors to continue with proprietary cables so long as they also made it possible to buy adapters. In a separate part of the Impact document, then EC says that in fact the MoU was a failure.

The intention had been to cut down on the number of chargers needed, to "decouple" devices so that phones no longer always had to come with their own charger.

"[The] ineffectiveness of the first (2009) MoU... raises serious doubts that decoupling would follow automatically from the standardization of chargers (especially connectors) alone," it says.

Cue Apple

Ahead of the vote, Apple wrote to the European Commission arguing that requiring it to move away from its Lightning connector would actually introduce an "unprecedented volume" of e-waste during the transition to a new standard.

"We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphone stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole," Apple wrote. "We hope the Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry's ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to customers."

Assessing the Impact

The new European vote to standardize chargers is far from a straightforward decision to adopt any one standard and enforce it. The European Commission's report specifically states that "there is no clear-cut 'optimal' solution."

That report offers multiple possible options from allowing proprietary chargers with adapters, to mandating USB-C, and several variations in between.

Those variations chiefly concern the standardization not of cables and connectors, but rather of the chargers themselves. Most phones use power cables the plug into what the EC refers to as an "external power supply" or EPS.

"[The] most effective approach to addressing the consumer inconvenience that results from the continued existence of different... charging solutions," the report concludes, "would be to pursue... common connectors in combination with [an] interoperable EPS."

What happens next

There is overwhelming support in the European Parliament for some kind of standardization of chargers across smartphones, and pressure to adopt that same charging for other mobile devices, too.

However, there is neither a specific timeframe nor a specific plan for how this may be accomplished.

Detail from the EC Impact report outlining what it believes are the possible options
Detail from the EC Impact report outlining what it believes are the possible options


Option 0 is really the current situation, which is that Apple could continue with its Lightning connector -- or any connector of its choosing -- so long as an adapter was available.

It's option 1 that would see a significant change as it would effectively mandate the use of USB-C for iPhone. Apple has moved to USB-C for certain charging plugs and the iPad Pro, so it had been expected that it would do the same with iPhones.

The company continues to stick with Lightning, however, and seemingly because of the how much a change would affect users. Apple has argued to the European Commission that proposed charging changes would affect all countless docks and other third-party devices that connect over Lightning.

Option 2 would be a compromise with an adapter plus a USB-C AC power plug, which is possible but USB-C chargers are more expensive than Lightning ones.

Next, option 3 would also mean Apple having to provide a USB-C AC power plug, but the iPhone itself could continue to have a Lightning connector. Option 4 would have Apple making both a USB-C AC power plug and a USB-C iPhone.

The final European Commission option is the most costly for Apple, as it would mean a USB-C iPhone, and a new USB-PD-compliant fast-charging AC power plug that would provide at least 15W of power to a connected device.

The Commission does believe that wireless charging will become a serious solution, but it effectively dismisses it for now. By creating a mandate that companies use one of its five wired proposals, the Commission is also seemingly dismissing it for the future despite its pledge to not stifle innovation.

"Wireless charging is an incipient technology," it says. "At the moment, its energy efficiency is around 60%, whereas energy efficiency for wired technologies is close to 100%."

Apple is far from against adopting USB-C -- here it is promoting the feature on its iPad Pro -- but it is against the mandating of any one standard
Apple is far from against adopting USB-C -- here it is promoting the feature on its iPad Pro -- but it is against the mandating of any one standard


Issues like these make the overall plan feel stunted, and the range of possible options being considered have meant that the EC has been unable to implement any agreement, let alone legislation, since the 2009 MoU.

Apple's stance on commonality between adapters

At the heart of the issue remains Apple's point about e-waste and stifling innovation.

"The European Commission argues that further harmonisation would lead to increased consumer convenience," says the Impact report, "as they 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."

"A harmonised solution, according to the Commission's initial analysis, is also expected to reduce the number of counterfeit chargers in the market," it continues, "reduce the import needs of chargers (as consumers could keep using their old chargers), and reduce electronic waste."

The same report, though, separately argues that if it's successful in stopping phone vendors always providing a charger, counterfeits will increase.

"However, the higher decoupling scenarios would also be likely to lead to a certain growth in the market for standalone chargers and, by extension, in the sales of unsafe and/or counterfeit chargers," the Commission says.

The fact that counterfeit chargers may increase or decrease, is typical of the detail in the Commission's findings which also demands both standardization and innovation.

"At the same time, the Commission recognises that any further harmonisation should not limit innovation, i.e. the development and diffusion of new generations of chargers," it says.

Consequently it's very unclear what will happen next and the only certainties seem to be that it will take a long time. While any hardware choices may have carry-over effects in other countries, it will only be mandated in European Union member-states.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 52
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,627member
    Apple will, of course, do what is necessary to comply with the EU regulations coming. It’s just sad that it has come to this, a bunch of clueless bureaucrats deciding what’s in the best interests of their subjects. And believe me, it won’t stop with chargers. There’s a reason not much technology innovation comes out of Europe.
    designrseanjentropysMisterKitsdw2001mwhitepscooter63JWSCbshankmacplusplus
  • Reply 2 of 52
    This is what happens when people want more government -- they get more government...
    designremoellerentropyssteven n.airnerdsdw2001mwhiteJWSCbshankjbdragon
  • Reply 3 of 52
    Unelected clueless bureaucrats here to save the people.  But guess who doesn't have to participate in this...#brexit!  I wonder who's next to pull out of this clusterF organization.
    designrseanjentropyssdw2001JWSCbshankmacplusplusjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 52
    There is a lot of logic in what they are considering. 

    However, applying it without adverse consequences is going to be very difficult. 

    Switching to USB-C and certain power delivery levels at the Power supply end makes sense to me. 

    Then forcing adapters to be available as they have seems sufficient. 

    The manufacturer can keep whichever connection they want, however there must be an adapter. In practise this will result in everyone but Apple using USB-C and seemingly eventually Apple will also do so on the iPhones. 

    When the next standard comes round the manufacturer’s are free to use it 
  • Reply 5 of 52
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,627member
    I guess one question to discuss is what makes Lightening better than USB-C. Does Lightening do something or provide something USB-C cannot?
  • Reply 6 of 52
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,316administrator
    lkrupp said:
    I guess one question to discuss is what makes Lightening better than USB-C. Does Lightening do something or provide something USB-C cannot?
    Lightning's connector itself is a bit more durable than the jacketed USB data and power connector, and easier to extract from a device if it shears off.

    USB-C can carry more data and power faster than Lightning can. How relevant this is to mobile varies, user to user.
    airnerdsdw2001mwhitepscooter63JWSCbshankcaladanianStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 52
    macguimacgui Posts: 2,062member
    On this matter, what anybody else thinks besides me, matters not to me, other than being disgruntled at potentially having to live with a USB-C connector on my phone.

    One thing a USB-C connector will probably never equal, is the Lightning connector's ease of connection. I can connect a Lightning cable to my phone with one hand, in the dark, while driving or riding down the road.

    There are very few scenarios where this would not be possible and none where it would be possible with Type-C. The shape of the Lightning connector facilitates plugging it in much, much more easily than a USB-C cable.

    Having to plug into a Lightning to USB-C adapter would be doable, sans all the convenience of plugging directly into a phone's Lightning port.

    Granted USB-C avoids the 'Third time's the charm' methodology of micro-USB connectors, which are spawn of the Devil. Still, every time I plug a USB-C cable into my MacBook, I'm depressed at the thought using one for the phone.

    This is too small an issue to cross anybody's mind, particularly of the EC.
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 52
    More clueless bureaucrats deciding what’s best with little knowledge. Thank goodness that the U.K. escaped the unelected dictators in Brussels who know nothing about markets and innovation.   
    seanjentropysrazorpitJWSCbshankmacplusplusjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 52
    seanjseanj Posts: 264member
    Yet another example of the overreaching tendency of the EU bureaucrats to regulate every single aspect of their citizens lives...
    Thank God for Brexit! 🇬🇧
    entropysrandominternetpersonrazorpitJWSCmacplusplusjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 52
    jdb8167jdb8167 Posts: 621member
    lkrupp said:
    I guess one question to discuss is what makes Lightening better than USB-C. Does Lightening do something or provide something USB-C cannot?
    Lightning's connector itself is a bit more durable than the jacketed USB data and power connector, and easier to extract from a device if it shears off.

    USB-C can carry more data and power faster than Lightning can. How relevant this is to mobile varies, user to user.
    According to Apple's submission, the lightning jack in the phone is also smaller leaving more room for battery and other components. This might explain why they are willing to use USB-C on iPad Pros but not on iPhones.

    From their Copenhagen Economics submission:
    https://www.copenhageneconomics.com/dyn/resources/Publication/publicationPDF/3/523/1579701038/united-in-diversity_copenhagen-economics.pdf

    "For example, not only is the USB Type-C connector larger than the Lightning connector on the outside, thus restricting how slim devices can be, it also takes up more space inside the device which impacts the space left for other components, such as the size of the battery. Overall, the USB Type-C solution takes up 69 per cent more space of a device than the Lightning solution. This has a significant impact on the design, slimness and internal hardware capacity of the devices."
    edited February 2020 mwhitepscooter63JWSCStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 52
    I have been able to charge just about anything from any brand with my Apple chargers as they allow for any USB-adapter cable to be plugged into them. So effectively, I already have in essence what the EU wants to achieve and had it for years.
    Besides that, Apple chargers (and cables) are very durable, so they comply with EU's wishes in spirit in that department too.

     I see this whole circus as a ploy from Apple's competitors to put Apple at a disadvantage, now and in the future. Some day USB-C will start to be a constraint on whatever manufacturers want to achieve with their devices and Apple will be the first to explore new technical avenues. If EU law will prohibit devices from having anything other than USB-C, then that will be more difficult.

     In short, my impression (from NL in EU) is that this is a politically motivated cock-up, approved by blathering a-technical idiots.

     BTW, I see other manufacturers fitting their chargers with USB-sockets too, so they are moving in the right direction too (somewhat)......
    edited February 2020 razorpitpscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 52
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 9,233member
    1. If Apple has to make any modifications or provide additional adaptors to comply with these asshat EU rules, then Apple should raise prices even more on all Apple devices made for the EU region to compensate for this asshat rule. We can call it the asshat tax.

    2. I have a whole bunch of old chargers, vintage electronics and plugs lying around that I do not use anymore. The next time that I travel to the EU which will probably be sometime this summer, I will dump them all in my suitcase and bring them with me and dispose of them in the EU, contributing to their landfills.

    3. Apple will exist for longer than the EU, as I believe that they will be history and collapse eventually, while Apple will still continue to exist and thrive.

    4. In the future, the EU will be spoken about and remembered in the same terms as other failed European experiments and anti-democratic institutions such as the third reich. The EU is merely an extension of that.
    seanjrazorpitbeeble42watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 52
    I understand the logic to try and curb electronic waste but the EU should try to make a real impact by banning cheap 'disposable' phones that use Android OS and force manufactures to provide security and software updates to all phones -  like Apple does. According to Recon Analytics the average lifespan of Android phones is about 21 months compared to the average lifespan of an Apple device at just over four years. Given that Android has such a huge market share, that is a LOT of e-Waste.
    steven n.mattinozrazorpitpscooter63JWSCbeeble42watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 52
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,225member
    My issue is the straight out lies the EC has used to force this legislation. They have continued to use the 2009 figure of 51,000 metric tons of chargers being thrown out every year by E.U. citizens.

    This translates to around 2,000,000,000 chargers every year or about 4 chargers every year for every man, woman, baby, teenager or child living in the E.U.  

    This is a legislative tragedy. 
    seanjrazorpitwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 52
    My first impression was similar to the rest of the commenters, what a bunch of asshats, however after further review I find some merit on the charger side. They really messed up on the original 2009 MoU by not requiring 15 watts on the 5 volt USB spec 

    It is now 2020 and its time to move up to the USB-C PD spec on the charger side, and this should apply to stand alone chargers as well as new charging ports in airplanes, autos, lamps and clocks in hotels etc. Apple currently has an 18W USB-C PD charger for $29 and BTW this is the maximum that Apple uses for fast charging. 

    USB-C gets to be a real can of worms for laptops and non-mobile devices because of the higher power requirements and higher data speed requirements. The EU is not addressing these issues




    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 52
    This IMPORTANT legislation resolves a pressing 1st World problem. Of course, this problem will be going away in the near future as wireless charging and wireless connections completely replace wired connections. Anyone want to lay odds that Apple will be the first company to put out a phone with 0 connection ports? Perhaps the EU would like to lay down some regulations on landlines while they're at it?
    mwhite
  • Reply 17 of 52
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 9,233member
    DangDave said:
     Apple currently has an 18W USB-C PD charger for $29 and BTW this is the maximum that Apple uses for fast charging. 




    Apple has larger chargers than that, I remember a 29W USB-C charger and a 30W USB-C charger.

    I use a 30 watt one myself with my iPad Pro.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 52
    This is what happens when people want more government -- they get more government...
    The amount of government is somewhat irrelevant, it the effectiveness of that that governance in relation to the desired outcomes that matters. There are endless examples of how the lack of regulation can be detrimental, just look at Boeing and the most recent helicopter crash. The trick is to find a good balance of regulations and government services to facilitate the health and wellbeing private sector. Less, more, big, small, really mean nothing but they certain make good campaign slogans for people with small minds who can only see the world in simplistic black & white terms, when in fact it's grey seething with complexity in a way that make any fixed ideology problematic and incomplete.
    bonobobmuthuk_vanalingamavon b7zoetmbcaladanianFileMakerFellerroundaboutnow
  • Reply 19 of 52
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,428member
    apple ][ said:
    1. If Apple has to make any modifications or provide additional adaptors to comply with these asshat EU rules, then Apple should raise prices even more on all Apple devices made for the EU region to compensate for this asshat rule. We can call it the asshat tax.

    2. I have a whole bunch of old chargers, vintage electronics and plugs lying around that I do not use anymore. The next time that I travel to the EU which will probably be sometime this summer, I will dump them all in my suitcase and bring them with me and dispose of them in the EU, contributing to their landfills.

    3. Apple will exist for longer than the EU, as I believe that they will be history and collapse eventually, while Apple will still continue to exist and thrive.

    4. In the future, the EU will be spoken about and remembered in the same terms as other failed European experiments and anti-democratic institutions such as the third reich. The EU is merely an extension of that.
    Try as I might, I couldn’t find one piece of logic in your entire post
    muthuk_vanalingamcroprzoetmbchemengin1caladanianStrangeDaysroundaboutnow
  • Reply 20 of 52
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,428member
    jdb8167 said:
    lkrupp said:
    I guess one question to discuss is what makes Lightening better than USB-C. Does Lightening do something or provide something USB-C cannot?
    Lightning's connector itself is a bit more durable than the jacketed USB data and power connector, and easier to extract from a device if it shears off.

    USB-C can carry more data and power faster than Lightning can. How relevant this is to mobile varies, user to user.
    According to Apple's submission, the lightning jack in the phone is also smaller leaving more room for battery and other components. This might explain why they are willing to use USB-C on iPad Pros but not on iPhones.

    From their Copenhagen Economics submission:
    https://www.copenhageneconomics.com/dyn/resources/Publication/publicationPDF/3/523/1579701038/united-in-diversity_copenhagen-economics.pdf

    "For example, not only is the USB Type-C connector larger than the Lightning connector on the outside, thus restricting how slim devices can be, it also takes up more space inside the device which impacts the space left for other components, such as the size of the battery. Overall, the USB Type-C solution takes up 69 per cent more space of a device than the Lightning solution. This has a significant impact on the design, slimness and internal hardware capacity of the devices."
    One of the big advantages of the Lightning connector is that it is a single, monolithic piece, as opposed to the USB C connector which is a coaxial connector with a ‘tongue’ in the female port. This makes it harder to clean debris out of the port. The lightning connector also has a better indentation got positively securing the plug. 

    As far as data capacity is concerned, I don’t think that matters much for smart phones. For iPads it definitely could. 

    Iooking at the two, I have a hard time believing there is a significant difference in the amount of space they take up. 
    razorpitwatto_cobra
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