EU forces Apple to kill the lightning cable with new USB-C rules

In a big win in the fight against e-waste, lawmakers in the EU have reached an agreement on legislation that will force all future smartphones sold in the EU — including Apple’s iPhone — to have to use a USB-C port for wired charging by autumn 2024. This means, you guessed it, no more lightning cable!

The rule will also apply to other electronic devices including tablets, digital cameras, headphones, handheld video game consoles, and e-readers.

The new rules have been talked about for years, but this week, after talks between different EU bodies, an agreement was reached on its scope and specifics.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection tweeted the news before a press conference. The EU Parliament and Council still need to sign off on the law later this year, but this seems more like a formality than anything else. The European Parliament said in a press release that the law would be in place "by autumn 2024."

“Today we have made the common charger a reality in Europe!” said the European Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba in a statement. “European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device. Now they will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics.” The legislation will also include provisions designed to address wireless chargers, as well as harmonizing fast-charging standards.

By making chargers for electronic devices work with each other, the rules try to cut down on e-waste in the EU. In the future, lawmakers hope that phones won't need to come with a charger in the box because buyers will already have the right cable and wall charger at home. The EU thinks that the rules could save consumers 250 million euros a year on "unnecessary charger purchases" and cut down on around 11,000 tonnes of e-waste a year.

The agreement will have a massive impact on Apple because it is the only major smartphone maker that still doesn't use USB-C but instead uses the proprietary lightning port.

Apple sold 241 million iPhones around the world in 2021, about 56 million of which were sold in Europe. In its press release, the EU says that the rules apply to devices "that can be charged with a wired cable." This means that a device that can only be charged wirelessly would not need a USB-C port.

The European Commission announced the current plans for the law in September of last year, but they’ve has been trying for more than a decade to force manufacturers to use the same charging standard. In the years since, Android makers have settled on micro USB and then USB-C as the most common charging standard, while Apple switched from its own 30-pin connector to lightning for its phones.

The EU tried to make Apple use USB-C on its phones, but Apple fought back. A spokesperson told Reuters last year, "We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world”.  Some people also say that forcing a switch to USB-C would add to electronic waste instead of reducing it because it would make Apple's current ecosystem of lightning accessories useless.

Yet, there have been rumours from inside Apple that the company might be getting ready to change its iPhones so that they charge through USB-C. Bloomberg said last month that the company was testing USB-C iPhones internally, and Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that the switch could happen as soon as next year. Apple has been a big supporter of the USB-C standard, and its laptops and higher-end iPads already use it.

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