Business

EU moves ahead with plans to standardize phone chargers by 2024

The European Parliament approved new rules on Tuesday that will introduce a single charging port for mobile phones, tablets and cameras in the EU by 2024 — a world first that is expected to affect iPhone maker Apple more than its rivals.

Move will impact Apple most of all, as tech giant rejects USB in favour of its own style

Do you want one-size-fits-all phone chargers?

2 months ago
Duration 1:16
On the streets of Toronto, consumers shared their thoughts with CBC News about the European Union's move to force tech companies like Apple to all use the same type of charging ports on their handheld devices.

The U part of USB will soon be one step closer to reality after a move by European lawmakers on Tuesday to force Apple and its rivals to all use the same charging ports for their handheld devices.

The European Parliament voted 602-13 in favour of mandating USB-C charging ports for all handheld electronic devices by as soon as 2024.

The law is believed to be the first in the world designed to standardize charging ports for things like laptops, cameras, mobile phones and other gadgets. Currently, most manufacturers use a version of the USB standard, which stands for Universal Serial Bus. 

Apple, famously, does not, choosing to use its proprietary lightning port for most devices in its ecosystem.

Under the new law, any electronic devices sold in the European Union must use the USB-C standard by 2024. Laptops will have an extra two years, until 2026, to adopt the new style.

About one in five phones in Europe use Apple's lightning port, shown here on the left, while the rest use a version of USB, two versions of which are shown at centre and on the right. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

A win for consumers

Alex Agius Saliba, the lead negotiator for the 27-nation bloc, says the new law will be a win for consumers and the environment.

"We are replacing this pile of chargers," he said, holding up a fistful of cords, "with just this," he said, showing off a single USB cord.

That mess of wires is more than simply an inconvenience for consumers; the European Union estimates in a research paper that standardizing charging ports could cut down on €250 million (around $338 million) of e-waste brought about by obsolete hardware.

Business analyst Dan Ives, managing director with Wedbush Securities, says the move is a "clear shot" at Apple, which has fought the change at every step of the way.

"Clearly, the EU is going on the warpath on this issue," he told CBC News in an interview.

Outlawing old chargers would have had a disproportionate impact on consumers and the environment, Saliba says, which is why the bloc is trying to put the onus on manufacturers to gradually phase out older products.

Most manufacturers already use some version of USB, but Apple does not. Half the chargers sold with mobile phones in 2018 had a USB micro-B connector, while 29 per cent had a USB-C connector and 21 per cent an Apple lightning connector, a 2019 an EU-sponsored study showed.

The company started using USB-C for some of its laptops in recent years, and is reportedly working on a version of the iPhone that does the same.

Apple has previously argued that a move to standardize chargers would create more electronic waste, not less.

Technology analyst Carmi Levy says ultimately Apple is likely to start using USB-C technology for all their devices as soon as they can. "It'll be an efficiency play," he told CBC News. "Simpler supply chain in a time of supply chain challenges."

He doesn't expect the company to try to make multiple versions of their devices to abide by various regulations around the world. "Long story short, this will impact consumers in Canada, the U.S., and every other major market where Apple is currently active," he said. "If other countries choose to follow the EU's lead, it'll be a largely ceremonial gesture."

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pete Evans

Senior Business Writer

Pete Evans is the senior business writer for CBCNews.ca. Prior to coming to the CBC, his work has appeared in the Globe & Mail, the Financial Post, the Toronto Star, and Canadian Business Magazine. Twitter: @p_evans Email: pete.evans@cbc.ca

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