Europe’s move towards a universal gadget charger, explained

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My phone uses a different charging cable than my laptop, which uses a different cable than my PC keyboard, which for some reason uses the same charging cable as my toothbrush.

In other words, my life is madly full of strings. And I’m not the only one.

This week, the European Union reached a tentative agreement requiring products like those (with the possible exception of the toothbrush) sold within its borders to use the same USB-C charging port. . This means that companies using proprietary technology – like Apple – will have to make big changes.

Smartphones must have a common charging port by 2024, says EU

According to a statement from the European Parliament, the aim is to “make EU products more sustainable, reduce e-waste and make life easier for consumers”.

Here is our brief guide to what the EU plan calls for and what it could mean for all of us outside Europe’s borders.

What is really happening?

The EU wants to make sure people can use one type of charger to power many different portable electronic devices. This list includes smartphones, tablets, headphones, cameras, e-readers, portable game consoles, Bluetooth speakers, keyboards, computer mice, and other gadgets that you charge by plugging in a cable.

Assuming the European Parliament and European Council approve this move after their summer recess, hardware makers and tech companies will have until fall 2024 to ensure specified products have USB-C ports. .

The situation for laptops is slightly different – the companies producing them will have 40 months from the approval of the deal by European lawmakers to ensure that their computers support USB-C charging.

Along with mandating a “common” charger, the EU also hopes to standardize charging speeds for gadgets – like smartphones – that support faster charging.

Much of the conversation surrounding the EU decision has focused on Apple, and for good reason: the company’s iPhones have used the proprietary Lightning charging system for nearly a decade, and it doesn’t appear have a lot of options other than replacing it entirely.

He probably can’t stick a Lightning to USB-C dongle in iPhone cases and call it a day because the proposal says the USB-C connector “should remain accessible and operational at all times.” And Alex Agius Saliba, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator, told a press conference that “if Apple wants to market its products, sell its products in our internal market, they have to play by our rules” about building a USB-C connector. in their devices.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a transition the company would have tested behind closed doors. After all, it’s not like the company isn’t a fan of the connector – it already uses USB-C charging in its laptops and in a handful of iPad models, although its cheaper tablets continue to grow. use lightning ports.

But could Apple create separate USB-C versions of the iPhone for use in Europe while the rest of us get models with Lightning ports? That thought has crossed the minds of some industry watchers – though they don’t really expect Apple to make that call.

“I think the most likely outcome here is that Apple will move the iPhone to USB-C globally rather than making two slightly different designs,” said Case law processor Aaron Perzanowski. Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “I’m no supply chain expert, but I can’t imagine that would be an effective approach.”

Carolina Milanesi, president of technology analyst firm Creative Strategies, also doesn’t expect Apple to maintain different iPhone models for specific markets. “They don’t usually do that,” she said. “I also expected them to switch to USB-C this year just [because] everyone already has it.

Asked about the impact of the EU decision, Apple declined to comment.

How does this affect users in the United States?

This whole saga is taking place in Europe, and (at the risk of stating the obvious), the EU cannot directly control how companies act, or what they do, outside of Europe. Does this mean that those of us outside of Europe will not feel the effects of this change?

It’s not uncommon for companies to decide that operating with one set of standards in Europe and another for the rest of the world doesn’t really make sense. Consider companies like Microsoft: While reconfiguring its products and services to comply with the European General Data Privacy Regulation, or GDPR, it decided to extend those protections to users elsewhere. (Funny enough, this phenomenon is known as the Brussels effect.)

In this case, it could This means that Apple and companies like it are starting to move towards one type of charging connector worldwide.

“If true, this is another powerful illustration of the Brussels effect, and one that has wider implications,” Perzanowski said.

Don’t expect your life with your gadgets to change overnight if companies really embrace the change. On the one hand, if everything evolves according to EU plans, hardware manufacturers still have years to start playing by the rules. And since USB-C is already the de facto charging standard for many types of consumer electronics, some enthusiastic early adopters may not notice much of a change.

But others might. For them, the number of different cables they rely on throughout the day might start to decrease. You might not need to pack so many when you go on vacation, or worry about your phone dying on a night out because the bartender didn’t have the right one. In other words, some of us could go about our lives with one less thing to worry about – and that’s not a small thing.

What should I do while waiting?

Since tech companies and legislators think about cables and ports anyway, this is a good opportunity for you to do the same.

If you’re up to your neck with old charging cables as they are, resist the urge to throw them in the trash. Instead, pile them up and drop them off at an e-waste facility or big-box tech retailer. “Obsolete cords and cables are usually high in copper and can be 100% recycled,” said Linda Gabor, executive vice president of media relations at Call2Recycle.

Here’s how to reuse and recycle your old technology

iPhone users who rely on accessories that plug directly into the Lightning port may also want to take some time to figure out which ones they really need. Apple wouldn’t comment on future product plans, but if the EU is successful, future iPhones may not be able to connect to these add-ons at all.

If that’s you, and you know you’ll want to keep using these accessories, consider reserving a working iPhone to use alongside them, just in case they aren’t replaced with a compatible model. USB-C.

And in case you’re thinking of getting a head start and stocking up on USB-C cables ahead of time, be careful.. Make sure to read reviews carefully and avoid suspicious and cheap ones. Not all cables are created equal, and even now – years since it first became mainstream – USB-C is still kind of a mess.

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