EU Pushes Smartphone Makers to Use USB-C Cables to Charge Devices

The European Union on Thursday urged smartphone manufacturers to use USB-C cables for charging their devices, outlining plans to require the smartphone industry to whittle down the various types of ports to just one, the Associated Press reported.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, proposed new legislation that would obligate companies to adopt the USB-C charging cables, which many manufacturers have already begun using, moving forward.

One of the top opponents to the proposed change is Apple, which voiced concerns that limiting charging cables could curtail future innovation and consequently displease buyers, AP reported. Apple's iPhones use the Lightning charging port, the company's own design, but adapter cables that can plug into USB-C sockets are included with newer models of the devices.

A typical resident of the EU owns at least three types of chargers and uses two of those commonly, but 38 percent of people reported that there was at least one instance where they couldn't charge their phones because they didn't have access to the correct cable, the commission said.

While many are expected to celebrate a reduced number of cables needed to charge their smartphones, the EU also aims to reduce the 11,000 metric tons of electronic waste that is discarded annually by Europeans, AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

EU Pushes for Single Charging Method
The European Union unveiled plans Thursday that would require smartphone makers to adopt a single charging method for mobile devices. Above, European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton speaks during a media conference on a common charging solution for mobile phones at EU headquarters in Brussels on September 23, 2021. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Some 420 million mobile phones or portable electronic devices were sold in the EU last year.

The draft rules also call for standardizing fast charging technology and giving consumers the right to choose whether to buy new devices with or without a charger, which the EU estimates will save consumers 250 million euros ($293 million) a year.

After attempting for more than a decade to cajole the industry into adopting a common standard—efforts that whittled dozens of different charging plugs down to a handful—the EU's executive Commission is pushing the issue.

"Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices. With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary. We are putting an end to that," Thierry Breton, the EU's internal market commissioner, said. "With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics – an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste."

Companies will get two years to adapt to the new rules once they take effect. The rules would apply only to electronics sold in the European single market's 30 countries, but, like the EU's strict privacy regulations, they could end up becoming a de facto standard for the rest of the world.

Apple said it shared the European Commission's commitment to protecting the environment but questioned whether the proposals would help consumers.

"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," the company said in a statement.

Breton denied that the new rules would slow innovation.

"If Apple wants to continue to have their own plug, they will have the ability to do it. It's not against innovation, it's just to make the lives of our fellow citizens a little bit more easy," Breton said at a press briefing in Brussels, adding that device makers could still put two different ports on their phones if they want. He added that the proposals would allow for updates to keep pace with advances in technology.

Under the proposed law, which must still be scrutinized and approved by the European Parliament, phones, tablets, digital cameras, handheld video game consoles, headsets and headphones sold in the European Union would all have to come with USB-C charging ports. Earbuds, smartwatches and fitness trackers aren't included.

Charging Cables
The EU Commission said USB-C will become the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles on September 22, 2021, in Brussels, Belgium. Above, a photographer with USB cables in the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarters on September 23, 2021, in Brussels. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images