The European Union seems ready to flex its muscles to steer the mobile market ship, perhaps emboldened by its successful case against Google and Android. This time, it’s turning its sights on something it already thought was a closed case years ago: mobile phone chargers. Despite the growing use of the USB-C standard on smartphones, the EU thinks that the adoption is not only slow but also not enough. And considering that Apple remains the only one with a proprietary connector, its Lightning technology stands to lose the most.
The EU has cited the growing amount of electronic waste in the region, and the world for that matter, which isn’t helped at all by the unbridled number of mobile phone chargers in the market. Each new phone came with its own charger and, until recently, each manufacturer used their own proprietary connections. In 2009, OEMs that included Samsung, Nokia, and Apple signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to voluntarily standardize on the micro USB connector. Apple retained its proprietary Lightning port on iPhones and iPads and merely shipped a micro USB to Lightning adapter in the region.
EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager is quoted by Reuters to have said that they have been unsatisfied with this voluntary approach and will be launching a study to consider other less voluntary options. That could mean forcing all manufacturers to use standard ports and standard chargers. Android device makers might have that easy, presuming the EU will push for USB-C adoption. While Apple has already embraced USB-C, specifically Thunderbolt 3, for its MacBooks, it has refused to budge on Lightning port for its mobile devices.
But ports won’t be the Commission’s only headache. Different OEMs also use different charging bricks with different capacities. This is made even more complicated by the fact that some even use their own non-standard fast charging technologies. Sometimes that’s even true for devices from the same manufacturer.
Things aren’t simpler on Apple’s side, despite the company using bricks that can nearly be used across generations of iPhones and iPads. The problem will come from accessories that are designed around the Lightning port. While dongles won’t be affected that much, there are a number of accessories, like cases and cameras, that will no longer be usable even with an adapter.