June 2022

Europe's new universal charging port rules: how will they affect us?

Tech companies have two years to adopt the standardised charging port in all smartphones (including iPhone), tablets and many other rechargeable devices.

From late 2024, most personal technology sold within European Union borders will need a standard USB-C charging port, allowing consumers to use the same charger for all their devices.

The mandate doesn’t cover New Zealand, of course. But hardware manufacturers are very likely to adopt USB-C charging across the board, as that’s cheaper than producing two different versions of their products.

Detail of USB-C port.

The rule change covers mobile phones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and e-readers, as well as peripheral devices such as keyboards and mice. It will also cover laptop computers, but not until 2026.

The European Commission expects the move to reduce e-waste, because consumers will buy and own fewer chargers in total. It may also drive innovation in wireless charging, which cuts out ports altogether.

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Apple opposes the mandate

While most tech companies already use USB-C ports for charging, the policy will have the greatest effect on Apple, which will have to retire its proprietary Lightning connector from the iPhone (or at least from those sold in Europe).

Apple has argued against the change, claiming that it will actually increase e-waste, and that innovation will suffer as manufacturers won’t be able to experiment with new ports.

Because Apple owns the Lightning connector, it earns a licensing fee from all third-party Lightning accessories. Switching to USB-C, which is administrated by a non-profit organisation, will dry up this revenue stream.

Apple already uses USB-C charging in its MacBooks and high-end iPads.

Detail of USB-C port.

Nothing will change in the next 12 months

It’s still two years before this policy comes into effect. The 2022 iPhones, and possibly the 2023 ones too, will continue to have Lightning ports. Just keep in mind that a Lightning accessory you buy today, such as earphones or a dock, might not work with your next iPhone without an additional adapter.

Many consumers won’t notice a difference at all. However, expect fewer devices to come bundled with chargers after 2024. According to EU legislators, this is desirable, as it lowers cost as well as preventing e-waste. You’ll likely have a few USB-C chargers by then, but if not, you’ll need to buy them for any new devices.

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Alison A.
02 Jul 2022
... take it to other media ...

As I was reading this, I was thinking about your article about Mr Green and his plastic/bamboo container dilemma. The Swapa Crate system works well because those beer bottles are all a standard size and material. Why not do that with all packaging materials? If we had (say) 6 or so standardized packaging options for perishable foods, then manufacturers could choose the size, shape and weight within the options, and there would be economies of scale for reuse or recycling. Why just stop at USB chargers?

Wendy S.
25 Jun 2022
Innovation or revenue?

It seems to me that manufacturers argue that innovation is stifled by standardisation, yet are not prepared to meet their responsibilities regarding the consequences. The customer pays for waste disposal and we all pay an environmental cost. Perhaps standardisation will force companies to rethink their position and accept that they have an obligation to meet consumer expectations in terms of environmental consequence?

John R.
18 Jun 2022
About time.

Imagine if your house was wired with a random collection of US, European and UK wall sockets.
I cringe a little when I buy a new device that uses a micro USB plug. I have to find a micro cable in the overflowing case of unused cables then try to plug it in (hands up anyone who can do that first time every time).
The next step is to get rid of those type A ends (you know, the usual rectangular one that goes into the computer or power supply) and have USB C at both ends. That is happening but very slowly.

P A M.
18 Jun 2022
Such a good idea

Packing for a recent trip I had so many cords for my devices I did wonder "why not one universal charger for each device to cut down on landfill?" Thank goodness others have had the same thought.

Graham Todd
18 Jun 2022
Basic standards

Makes practical sense. Lets get the development and improvement into the devices themselves not the ancillaries. You wouldn't by a car that had the foot brake on the right just to be different would you?

John W.
18 Jun 2022
The EU interferes in things that it should leave to others yet again

Demanding a standard type of charging port stymies innovation not to mention that USB C is far less waterproof than Lightning, thus endangering expensive personal electronic equipment. As usual the EU interferes with things that are no business of government.

J W.
19 Jun 2022
Anti-standardization apologist!

Should we should be expected to install GB and US socket outlets on our walls as well as Australian ones to avoid the NZ Government "stymying innovation"?
Is IP68 (that my Samsung claims) not waterproof enough?
I think you need new excuses to justify your anti-standardization opinions.

18 Jun 2022
About time!

Apple will have to suck it up. Why continue messing with a feature once a simple, reliable system appears? One less opportunity for planned redundancy.