As outlined in a recent newsletter posted on the European Parliament’s website, the 2014 Radio Equipment Directive called for a common charger to be developed that would fit all mobile phones, tablets, e-book readers and other portable devices.
The Commission ultimately “encouraged” the industry to adopt change but that hands-off approach has not yet produced the desired results.
The truth is, most decent Android phones have already switched to a unified standard in USB-C. The few remaining stragglers that still use something like micro-USB largely do so for cost-cutting measures. But should such legislation pass, the company with the most at stake would be Apple as its line of iPhones continue to utilize the proprietary Lightning connector.
This is an interesting story. For years, the European Union has been bothered by the issue of multiple cables and chargers needed for different portable devices. For the most part, portable devices, other than those from Apple, depend on micro-USB, that little unevenly-shaped plug you see for portable devices such as Android phones, Kindles, etc. (The most common is a Micro-B plug.) Apple is the exception, with their proprietary lightning connector, which has made Apple a lot of money.
But the EU document discusses “chargers,” not “charging cables.” Is this simply an error on their part? I don’t think they want to normalize the amperage of chargers; I think they are concerned about the cables that get wasted, but also the fact that chargers are provided with most new portable phones and tablets (except those at the low end).
There are a few issues here. First, the lightning connector offers some additional features, so you can, for example, put an iPhone in a dock, or use digital headphones, transfer data using a variety of adapters, etc. And, of course, this is a proprietary Apple technology, so they get licensing fees from any company that makes accessories.
Lately, it’s been clear that Apple is planning to move to USB-C, which has a number of advantages, such as higher data throughput and higher power. Recent iPad Pro models have a USB-C connector. So Apple should welcome this change, but what if the EU wants to standardize on micro-USB? They probably don’t want to, but even if the lightning connector is ditched, I don’t think we’ll see USB-C on all devices. My guess is that it’s a bit more expensive than a micro-USB jack, because of circuitry needed behind it.
Also, USB-C is quite perilous. Different USB-C cables have different capabilities, such as power or data throughput, and it can be quite difficult to know which one you need. And if you have the wrong one, you can actually damage a device.
I have a lot of devices in my home that use micro-USB: my Kindles, batteries for security cameras, chargers for camera batteries (though my Fujifilm X-T3 has a USB jack), and other devices. The fact that I can charge them all using the same cables is practical. Having both micro-USB and USB-C won’t be a problem, and I assume that the EU is only looking at devices like phones.
But the broader question of chargers is probably one that should be addressed. Do we really need to get a charger with each new device? I have lots of Apple chargers in my house, but for people who don’t have extras, should they have to pay another, say, $10 or so when they buy a new phone?