The EU has talked on standardizing mobile devices chargers, meaning “one size fits all”, but what would this mean for Apple?

A bill that would standardise smartphone charger connectors is currently being considered by the European Union. In layman’s terms, this means that the shape of the charger’s end – the part that you plug into your phone – will become consistent for all devices, regardless of manufacturer or version. Such a heavily suggested transition will require all technology companies to make products that accept USB Type-C, a style already favoured by many in the industry, including Google and Huawei. Advocates for the legislation argue that its success would represent a large step towards combating exponential electronic waste, which was quoted at 51,000 metric tonnes in 2014. The European Electronics Recyclers Association (EERA) stated that standardisation will not only improve re-use and repair of chargers but also present a great “opportunity for resources efficiency and recycling.”

Despite these proposed benefits, tech giant Apple has struck out against the bill. In a statement addressed to the European Commission, the iPhone maker argued that conversion to USB Type-C connectors would make over one billion Apple products in circulation “obsolete”, creating an “unprecedented volume of electronic waste” and “great inconvenience” for its customers.

Apple also disagrees that the bill will have productive effects on the quality of device chargers, expressing concerns that removing variety in connection types will “freeze innovation” in the sector. This could undermine their ongoing efforts to create devices that are charged wirelessly – an idea that they patented in 2017.

Apple, with this statement, announced an opposition on environmental and creative grounds. However, this underplayed significant implications on the company if the legislation is to pass. On the one hand, considerable inconveniences will arise if USB Type-C complicity is implemented, due to the company’s predominant use of Lightning connectors. The law would require a complete redesign and remanufacture of existing devices, costing considerable money and resources. Additionally, with it being a law exclusive to the EU, practical difficulties would occur when Apple creates future products intended for global use. Will they decide to adopt a blanket use of USB Type-C charger ports? Or opt to create two product lines – one for the EU and another for the rest of the world.

Some current mobile charging standards. Lightning, Micro USB, USB-C (left to right).

On the other hand, left unspoken but no doubt in Apple’s mind, standardisation threatens to undermine the exclusivity of their charger market. Since its patent over Lightning connectors in 2012, the company has enjoyed a monopoly over the production of chargers for most of its devices. As a result, handsome revenues have been drawn from its unique style, whether it be from its own product or that of third-party manufacturers. A turn to USB-C complicity would blow open the charger market for Apple products and, thus, result in a loss of valuable income for the company.

Apple has accepted that greater unilaterality is required if the technology industry is to progress alongside modern expectations of environmentalism and convenience. As an alternative, they proposed in their statement a “collective effort” between those within the sector towards reaching a “common charging solution” – an approach that was put in motion with Apple’s release of iPad Pro with USB Type-C complicity. Avoiding the EU’s dogmatic proposals, the company believes, will bring more gradual standardisation that will be “better for innovation, better for consumers and better for the environment.”

As the legislation moves into its drafting stage, Apple continues its criticism of charger standardisation within the EU. Only time will tell if their estimation of its environmental and innovative cost will hold against the lobbying of the legislation’s advocates. If the law is implemented, however, there is no doubt that the company will face severe intrinsic difficulties, which, as stated by their representative, will reach “far beyond the stated aims of the Commission”.

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