No more incompatible chargers cluttering up drawers? The European Commission wants to impose a universal charger for mobile phones and other electronic devices, in the name of consumer rights and the environment, a project that arouses the opposition of the American giant Apple.
The regulations proposed by the EU executive on Thursday, to be approved by MEPs and member states, aim to harmonize charging ports for smartphones, tablets, cameras, headsets, speakers and handheld game consoles … And could threaten the connection cables of the Californian group’s iPhones.
This project was launched in 2009 by the Commission and was the subject of a European Parliament resolution in January 2020, but it has so far met with strong reluctance from the industry, although the number of types of existing chargers have been greatly reduced over the years.
From around thirty in 2009, they have grown to three: the Micro USB connector which has long equipped the majority of telephones, USB-C, a more recent connection, and the Lightning used by Apple.
The EU now wants to impose the USB-C port on all electronic devices, which would allow the use of any charger, while the harmonization of fast charging technologies will ensure the same speed of charging – preventing it from being clamped when used with a device of a different brand.
Logically, Brussels intends to decouple the sale of electronic devices and chargers: “A victory for consumers and the environment […] Europeans are fed up with incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers, ”European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
“We have given the industry plenty of time to find solutions. Now, the time has come to legislate, ”she insisted. “It is time to put an end to this sea serpent,” added Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton to the press, hoping for the text to come into force within “a few semesters”.
Apple, which claims that its Lightning technology equips more than a billion devices worldwide, immediately reiterated its opposition. “This regulation would stifle innovation instead of encouraging it and harm consumers in Europe and around the world,” the group told AFP.
The firm at the apple, which estimated last year that such legislation would generate “an unprecedented volume of electronic waste” by making obsolete some of the chargers in circulation, is alarmed by the 24-month transition proposed by Brussels, deemed hasty, and the upheaval of its current recycling channels.
The Commission retorts that European consumers, who spend around 2.4 billion euros (just over 3.5 billion in Canadian dollars) per year on purchases of chargers alone, could save at least 250 million euros ( 370 million Canadian dollars) annually, and that unused loader waste, valued at 11,000 tonnes per year, could be reduced by almost 1,000 tonnes.
The American technological giants “are always playing the game of innovation that we are strangling. This is not a regulation against innovation or against anyone, it aims to make the lives of European consumers easier, ”commented Thierry Breton.
Brussels ensures that companies’ capacity for innovation is preserved – particularly in wireless charging techniques, which are precisely excluded from the draft directive because they are still considered to be largely developing in a market that is currently “not very fragmented”.
The ANEC association, which defends the rights of consumers on issues related to technological standards, welcomed the draft directive, while regretting that wireless charging systems, in full swing, are not concerned.
“It is essential to avoid fragmentation in this niche! As the legislation will take time to be discussed and adopted, it should also cover wireless charging ”in order to apply to technologies that are on the way to being the majority in a few years, argues ANEC.