EU proposes forcing USB-C charging for all technology — iPhones included

Nearly 19,000 kilometres away, the European Commission just did something pretty significant, which could have some interesting unintended consequences both in Europe and in the rest of the world.

In a bid to take on the dual terrors of e-waste and grumpy consumers, the Commission has published plans to force all tech manufacturers to embrace USB-C and unified fast charging standards. This will apply to everything from cameras to games consoles. 

For the most part, that won’t change much: if you’ve bought any technology in the last few years, you’ll likely find a USB-C port to charge things with. There is, however, one notable exception: Apple products, especially the iPhone.

Yes, recent iPads have embraced USB-C, but the iPhone — even the most recent iPhone 13 family — continues to use Apple’s own proprietary Lightning cable. This won’t be an option if the EU passes the proposal, which is something that’s very likely to happen, given the same MEPs approved of the idea of a common charger back in 2020

Once passed, all tech makers will have a two-year grace period in which to make the switch, which means that if it were adopted tomorrow, Apple could still slip out the iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 with Lightning cables. 

If it wanted to be particularly bloody minded, the company could create models especially for the European market with USB-C charging, and maintain the Lightning cable for the rest of the world. That would be pretty petty and inefficient, yet somehow very Apple. 

Given the recent adoption of USB-C in iPads and MacBooks, however, it seems likely that Apple will just go with it — with one possible alternative.

The rules only apply to wired charging, and if a device only charges wirelessly then there’s no need to put in a USB-C charging port just for the sake of it. That could be an out for Apple, which has reportedly been looking into the idea of a portless iPhone for some time. Indeed, a wireless charging only iPhone was one of the possible rumours for this year’s devices.

Of course, that wouldn’t exactly mesh with Apple’s previous objection to a unified charging standard for Europe — that it would make more e-waste by making all existing Lightning cables redundant — but it would at least mean the company can retire its proprietary tech on its own terms.

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