Apple adopting USB-C port for new iPhone 'a sigh of relief' for EU lawmaker
After a decade-long fight, European Union lawmaker Alex Agius Saliba is breathing a sigh of relief
For Alex Agius Saliba, there's one miniscule change coming to the iPhone 15 that makes all the difference — its charging port.
The newest iPhone will sport a USB-C charging port rather than the Apple-specific Lightning port, the company announced yesterday when unveiling the newest iteration of the smartphone.
"It was a sigh of relief when I saw the USB-C port," Saliba, a Member of the European Parliament for Malta, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.
The European Union passed regulation in 2022 mandating that all handheld devices — including smartphones, portable speakers and handheld gaming consoles — must use USB-C charging ports by 2024. The new rule is likely what pressured the tech giant into adopting the universal cable, experts say.
"The EU is a large and very wealthy market. So Apple need[ed] to respond to that regulation," said Josh Lepawsky, a professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland who researches e-waste.
Saliba worried initially that the EU rule would lead Apple to make two models of the iPhone — one with a USB-C port for the Europe market, and one with a Lightning port for the rest of the world. So far, it appears that's not the case.
A decade-long fight
When European Parliament lawmakers began the fight for a universal charger 13 years ago, there were 33 different kinds of cables on the market. Today, there are only three: USB-C, the older micro-USB and the Lightning charger.
Saliba and his team originally met with tech companies, asking them to voluntarily make the switch to USB-C chargers.
He recalled that when they met with Apple executives and made their pitch, they didn't get the response they were hoping for.
"When we mentioned this proposal, they were practically laughing at us. They didn't even reply to our questions. It was very insulting," he said.
When it became clear that voluntary agreements wouldn't be enough, they pushed for legislation instead.
Apple has criticized the legislation in the past, saying it stifles competition.
Saliba doesn't agree. "Ultimately, if you look at charging speed, if you look at data transfer, the USB-C standard is much, much, much better than the Lightning standard. So it is all a plus for consumers [and] for our environment," he said.
The legislation he helped write also allows for the standard charging cable to be changed if a better, more efficient technology comes about.
A drop in the bucket?
Mostafa Sabbaghi, an assistant professor at California State University, Sacramento who researches sustainability and environmental management research, said the change is a move in the right direction.
"Considering that the average lifetime of a Lightning cable is just one year, millions of end-of-life Lightning cables could be prevented from being discarded each year," Sabbaghi told CBC in an email.
But he said we're not out of the woods yet. Apple still needs to sell Lightning chargers for at least five more years for older iPhone models — meaning they'll still pile up in landfills for years to come.
Lepawsky is less optimistic.
"It is some reduction, but it's miniscule," he said. "The most environmentally friendly device is the one you already have. You cannot shop or recycle your way out of these problems."
In the future, Lepawsky hopes regulators can tackle other kinds of branded tech parts, like the practice of "parts pairing."
Tech companies often make small parts of devices, like chips for example, that are branded. If the same part from a Samsung device is swapped into an Apple phone, for example, the part will send an error message. Eliminating the practice would reduce the cost of repairing old devices, and make it a more accessible and attractive option for consumers, Lepawsky said.
Interview with Alex Agius Saliba produced by Chris Harbord