Monday, June 27, 2022

EU and Possibly US to Require USB-C for Phones

European Parliament (via Hacker News):

By autumn 2024, USB Type-C will become the common charging port for all mobile phones, tablets and cameras in the EU, Parliament and Council negotiators agreed today.


Under the new rules, consumers will no longer need a different charging device and cable every time they purchase a new device, and can use one single charger for all of their small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. Mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port, regardless of their manufacturer.

Jon Porter:

The single biggest impact of this legislation is likely to land on Apple’s iPhone. While the rest of the smartphone industry has gradually converged around USB-C as a single, standardized wired charging port, Apple has steadfastly stuck with Lightning, the proprietary connector it introduced with the iPhone 5 way back in 2012. The EU’s legislation could finally force it to move on.

The EU’s rules are just a provisional agreement for now and will need to be approved by both the European Council and European Parliament before they become official. That’s expected to happen after summer recess, which ends on September 1st.

Rosyna Keller:

Of course, even with such mandates, Type C would still have the same major flaw Type B, Mini USB, and Micro USB all suffer from: the “male” connector is on the device, not the cable, and that tiny little part can break of or become misaligned, requiring port replacement.

I’m less worried about that than I used to be because I now use primarily wireless charging. I’m more likely to use a cable when travelling, and that’s when it’s frustrating to need separate cables for Lightning. With newer iPads using USB-C, too, Lightning is not even ubiquitous among Apple devices.

Chance Miller:

Now, a group of senators in the United States is looking to follow suit, calling on the US Commerce Department to adopt a similar policy to address the “lack of interoperability standards for charging and other device accessories.”


According to the senators, proprietary charging standards such as Apple’s Lightning port are an example of “planned obsolescence” that is “expensive and frustrating for consumers, and drives the proliferation of electronic waste.”

I don’t think it’s “planned obsolescence.” Switching now would generate more waste in the short term, as customers discard their Lightning stuff. Maybe it would reduce waste in the long term, though it’s not clear to me how these proposals address the long term, i.e. how we will ever move beyond USB-C after it’s been mandated.

Juli Clover:

The next-generation AirPods Pro could come with a long list of new features that include heart rate detection, the ability to function as a hearing aid, and a USB-C port according to a report from 52Audio.

Granted, I think a USB-C AirPods case has been rumored ever since the first version.


6 Comments RSS · Twitter

This still just seems like an incredibly short-sighted regulatory move. What exactly are we gaining here, at the expense of future innovation? It would have made far more sense to mandate e-waste recycling and Right to Repair before implementing this idiocy. Or how about just banning the older connectors (mini-, micro-, USB-B) because even in 2022, devices using those still pop up (like this controller that just debuted:

And we've had Lightning for a DECADE, but please tell me more about "planned obsolescence." If that really was the plan, Apple seems to have forgotten about it.

Well said, thomasjpr. Whatever its supposed benefits (which seem minor at best), this move has a lot of drawbacks. It will render obsolete a ton of cables in a ton of households — cables which may become waste themselves. It will cause people to buy more USB-C cables than they would have had to otherwise, which is also wasteful. And it seems likely to produce a different lock-in effect. What’s the point of developing a new, better standard if legal mandates render it unusable? If a new standard is approved and the old USB-C connections are allowed to remain, then you’ve just reproduced the problem you said you were trying to get rid of. And if you mandate the new standard and deprecate USB-C, then you’re recreating the same waste in the future that you are with lightning cables right now. Typical bureaucratic short-sightedness.

If breaking USBC pins was a thing, we'd heard about it by now. Biggest issue with USBC is all the dust getting stuck in there, and you can fix that with a toothpick.

This is a great move. Let's hope they enforce proper right to repair next. (Spoken as the guy who just fixed an E15 on his dishwasher by following a guide on YouTube)

"the “male” connector is on the device, not the cable, and that tiny little part can break of or become misaligned, requiring port replacement."

I've never had that happen with any device, or know of anyone who has had that happen to them. What often *does* happen is that the whole USB connector isn't attached to the device properly, and comes loose. But that's not a USB-specific problem, it's a general quality problem.

"Switching now would generate more waste in the short term, as customers discard their Lightning stuff"

I'm not sure. I'd guess that pretty much anyone with a Lightning device also has multiple different USB-C devices (and chargers for them) already. Also, people don't use audio docks or similar devices anymore that they'd have to replace.

"it’s not clear to me how these proposals address the long term, i.e. how we will ever move beyond USB-C after it’s been mandated"

The law itself doesn't limit devices to the current USB-C standard, they just have to use the standard port, and support the current standard behavior. The EU also expects to make changes to accommodate future developments. But honestly, I feel that this is unnecessary. We don't need another plug. USB-C is more than good enough. It's pretty obvious that we've reached a situation of diminishing returns with charging cable design, that's why we've had the same mediocre Lightning connector since 2012 without people rioting in the streets.

Now is the right time to just say "this is it, all devices use this."

"at the expense of future innovation"

It's not at the expense of future innovation, and there's not going to be much more innovation when it comes to charging cables anyway.

"What’s the point of developing a new, better standard if legal mandates render it unusable?"

They don't, but there's no point to developing a "better charging cable standard" regardless. Just make everything compatible with USB-C and be done with it.

Doeke Zanstra

Hmm, I like my lightning. And I also still have micro USB connectors for charging. And I have *no* devices that charge via USB-C at the moment. I just like to keep my devices as long as possible.

So the XKCD is right about competing standards that I will be carrying a third charging cable from now on.

An area where regulations would be in order: wireless audio. We have "normal" bluetooth audio, which is not high quality. Apple probably has something proprietary via Bluetooth, we have Apt-X, Sony has it's own standard, and there is also Chromecast and AirPlay (1 & 2). It's a mess if you want to break out of your ecosystem (I just don't like Apple's headphones).

This isn't about adding a new standard. This is about enforcing one standard. Yes, for a while you will have to carry three chargers if you decide to bring your old phone, or iPad with you. But over time the need for lightning and usb micro will go away.

There's a better comparison to make for this new law, and that is when the EU last removed a bunch of bespoke phone chargers back in 2010. It was great then, it is great now. Had this been enforced years ago I personally wouldn't have had to bring a usb micro with me for my camera and headphones.

The one downside I can see is that it will probably make companies adopt wireless charging quicker. And seeing as that is less energy efficient, it's also worse for the environment.

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