Thursday, October 6, 2022

EU Passes Law to Switch iPhone to USB-C

Hartley Charlton (Hacker News):

The European Parliament today voted overwhelmingly in favor of enforcing USB-C as a common charging port across a wide range of consumer electronic devices, including the iPhone and AirPods, by the end of 2024.


Exemptions will apply for devices that are too small to offer a USB-C port, such as smart watches, health trackers, and some sports equipment, but the legislation is expected to be expanded to other devices over time.

As I’ve said, I wish Apple had come to this decision on its own years ago. There are certainly potential downsides to a legal mandate, and if Apple had truly been worried about them it likely could have forestalled the EU by acting before it was obligated to. Instead, many extra cables and dongles had to be manufactured, we’ve been carrying them around all these years (while getting slower transfers), and Apple’s future product designs may be unnecessarily constrained.

Benedict Evans:

The fun thing about these kinds of rules is you won’t actually see the innovation they kill, because ‘this is illegal unless you submit it to an unpredictable multi-year bureaucratic approval process’ means projects will be abandoned at birth. You can’t see the counter-factual.

Alex Stamos:

Apple could have prevented this years ago by making the move to USB-C and announcing that they would work with other manufacturers via USB-IF to synchronize ports from now on. That would have kept the process in the standards body instead of Brussels.

Tony Fadell:

This is only happening because Apple hasn’t been doing the right thing. Period. This is about a monopolist like position not about technology. I hope after Apple is forced to change the regulations will be removed to allow innovation to continue.

Tony Fadell:

Frankly forcing Apple to make this brain dead change for the planet through regulation is a much lot easier than a monopolistic legal trial. Again, Apple is abusing their market position & this is coming from the guy who made the 30 pin connector happen!


Update (2022-10-07): Sami Fathi:

Following in the footsteps of the EU, India is now in the early stages of considering imposing regulations on consumer products sold in the country that force a universal standard charger, including USB-C, by as early as 2024, Mint reports.

Update (2022-10-13): Matt Birchler:

Gonna be honest, I think I’ve had Lightning tell me “this accessory is not compatible with your device” when doing things like plugging into a Mac than any “ah man, this USB-C cable doesn’t work how I expected” situation.

This sometimes happens to me when connecting iOS devices to Macs using Apple Lightning cables.


What gets left unsaid often in this USB Type C vs Lightning saga is that, eventually, ALL users lose.

Because the double-sided Lightning connection is the mechanically superior system with sufficient electrical signaling lanes (if you dump USB2).

Apple screwed up by greedily keeping the Lightning connection proprietary, vs handing it over to the USB-IF for standardization.

The male tongue in the port of the Type C connector is an engineering nightmare, that Apple and others have already capitalized upon thru repair costs.

Riccardo Mori:

Some technophiles are quick in labelling the EU politicians as being idiots, ignorant bureaucrats that don’t know how technology works. Given the examples above, are we so sure tech companies really know what’s best for their customers?


And what sort of benefits would bring keeping Lightning around, exactly? What’s the ‘innovation’ there? In theory, the Lightning specification would allow for more uses than just charging, but even Apple itself has been under-utilising Lightning. So, if Lightning is essentially reduced to just being an alternative, proprietary charging solution, then I think it makes pragmatic sense to want to standardise charging solutions.


In other words, I think charging isn’t exactly a fast-moving aspect of technology that warrants being immune from standardisation attempts.

Nick Heer:

I would love for my iPhone to be “stifled” by USB4 speeds when I sync my music library. If Apple thinks replacing Lightning with USB-C will make the iPhone worse for its users, it should more clearly articulate why. For example, one test found USB-C connectors left more material in the port in the case of the cable tip breaking, which could damage the device. Alas, Apple does not even offer that explanation, just some nonspecific worries.

Matt Birchler:

I don’t agree with the USB-C regulation, but I do think it’s fundamentally funny to hear people using iPhones with USB 2.0 connections go “what if a better connector comes out and the iPhone can’t switch to it?!”

Update (2022-10-27): Hartley Charlton:

Outlined in an official press release, the European Council today gave the European Parliament's common charger directive approval, finalizing the legislative procedure that will make a USB-C port mandatory across a wide range of consumer electronic devices, including the iPhone and AirPods, by the end of 2024. The directive has now been officially adopted and is set to be published in the official journal of the European Union.

14 Comments RSS · Twitter

Finally! If USB C is so bad, as many single source pundits and consumers keep parroting, why is Apple already using USB C for their iPads (All? Most? I haven't tracked every model release last couple years...) and portable Macs? Seems a no brainer at this point, why would you want iPhones to be one thing, iPads to be another thing? For those twitter comments saying we will be stuck with USB C for 40 or 50 years, why? The EU already transitioned from micro USB to USB C, after a number of years to be fair, but pretty close to the sweet spot. Not too soon, but not too long either.

Besides being reversible, I'm not sure Lightning brought much to the table even over micro USB B. Micro USB could use external devices, provide video output, and charge. Just depended on what features were integrated into the device. So if Apple had made the change during the last attempt at universal enforcement, they could have rode the wave of standardization for the last two revisions.

Fighting USB C was even stranger because the downside seems to be the usual USB branding confusion but the actual functionality is pretty swell. Yes, I know the real reason was ecosystem control and licensing, but when even Nintendo decided USB C is the right move, you know you are being extra stubborn not to move over. Nintendo loves their branding revenue too. They locked their component output under a chipped DRM interface on the GameCube for crying out loud. 😃

This is funny, I don't see a single article talking about the negative impact of changing iDevice port.
It means people will have to change hundred of millions of devices that will be incompatible with future iPhones and iPads…

People have a really short memory if they don't remember the reaction when Apple switched from the 30 pin port.

> or those twitter comments saying we will be stuck with USB C for 40 or 50 years, why? The EU already transitioned from micro USB to USB C,

This will no longer be possible, as they would never be new port to switch on, as introducing a new port would be illegal.

@Jean-Daniel if you mean hundreds of millions of cables (rather than devices), then yes, those will have to be changed. Chances are that they already have USB-C cables lying around though.

I find Benedict Evans' tweet deliciously ironic since "unpredictable bureaucratic approval process" so perfectly describes Apple's own App Store submission process.

Old Unix Geek

@Doodpants: was thinking the same thing.

Since Apple doesn't like ports anyway, they should use this as an opportunity to accelerate their move to the first no-port device. Expect the Solar Charged iPhone and the Body Heat Charged iPhone any day now. /s (somewhat)

I bet they rather create energy wasting "wireless charging only" phones than add USBC

This is the potential FUD I was actually referring to in my first post. I think it's been spread enough, even the informed people on this very site have been inundated with such purposeful confusion. Where does it say USB C is the only cable standard that will ever be allowed? In fact, this is round two for the EU, the first time around they mandated micro USB.

And just to clarify MicroUSB predates the Lightning port, so does MHL (mobile video output protocol) which could run over microUSB, and finally USB OTG was around pretty much from the first days of USB 2.0 I believe. Again, besides reversible input (which is really handy mind you), what did Lightning bring to the table over five years (four if you count MHL) that was worth waiting that long when transitioning from the 30pin? Kind of crazy really, by the time Apple had a better port, it only enjoyed less than three years of market space before USB C was shipping (April 2015). Had they changed over in say 2007 with the first iPhone to microUSB, Apple would have benefited for at least 8 years of standardization before the next change over to the new standard. Yes, yes, I know the real reason was to keep the stupid Apple ecosystem licensing bonanza going instead of making it better for consumers, but it is still frustrating every time I have to buy a special cable for each manufacturer's devices.

USB C is a bit of a mess but with a smarter labeling and branding system there was no reason for it to not really be the one stop shop for all connections.

Why even throw out your Lightning cables? Why not buy a few $6-$8 USB C to Lightning adapters and call it a day? For syncing and charging, you can keep reusing your existing cables… and you can even go the other way by using an adapter for existing iPhones/iPads with Lightning ports to use modern USB C cables on those devices. It really doesn't have to be the waste apocalypse people are claiming.

@Nathan I don’t understand the waste apocalypse argument, anyway, because unless you think Lightning is never going away, the longer Apple uses it the more dead-end cables will be produced.

We can't see a counter-factual in the other direction, either: all of the hair that's been torn out, worldwide, over not having the right phone charger available, simply because one company still uses a proprietary design in 2022 (and not even the same design as their own tablets and laptops). I see this all the time among my friends and coworkers. Each instance is only a minor inconvenience, but it's multiplied by a billion. This is the perfect case for government intervention, as it's the people (rather than the company) who bear the cost of the company's (in)actions.

I wonder: are these pro-Lightning nerds also upset that their national electrical code requires a specific physical form for the receptacles in their house? Do they think there's some great innovation left to be found in power connectors that USB-C is going to prevent? This is a solved problem now. Once technology has solved a problem, we make it code. That's how these things work.

NEMA 5-15R/P is objectively one of the worst power connectors, but we're far better off having it as a standard in this country than letting every company invent their own. Or like the UK only a few years ago, making everybody learn how to permanently wire their appliances to their house.

Strangely, nobody has mentioned even a pie-in-the-sky imaginary Star Trek technology that future cables might bring, which couldn't be implemented over USB-C. Sure, cables could be better. But there's already a computer on both ends of it. What more do we need?

Android vendors label an entire smartphone unsupported after two years. Apple provides seven years of support, five years of updates and cables lasting as much as a minimum. With a connector innovative enough to be copied and then the copy being forced into law. This legislation is Google’s marketing masterpiece.

They could have mandated a magnetic connector at least. And pushed the game up instead of down.

The issue with support on Android is largely caused by manufacturers, who license the chipsets and the OS, not actually spending time keeping things up to date. Then again, even my old Android devices supports most apps and if using Google Play, consistent Google Play services updates as well. If you offer an unlocked bootloader, it is a whole lot easier to use custom roms with newer versions of Android. When it comes to OS updates, many companies do actually offer 2, 3, or even 4 years of updates, so it is not universal laziness on the Android side.

I have no idea why you think this is a coup for Google when they sell very few device overall in the Android ecosystem. USB has been around so long, it predates Google's existence as a company. The first Android phone used a proprietary port, extUSB (compatible with USB but was not an actual standard). I remember some Nooks's using an extra long micro USB port and other's using weird 30pin style adapters. The point being, Android the OS never really cared how you charged the device. The adoption of USB C really is the result of industry cooperation converging on a single standard. And just to clarify for the umpteenth time, even Apple supports USB C on most of their iPads and all of their laptops, right? So is Apple in on this conspiracy too?

You can access as root and transform Android to look like iOS. Not that nobody does that. At the contrary modding is very popular. But even though we tend to believe in a future painted for us, hard reality is different. Is not mainstream, i.e. for at least 50% of Android users, to patch old distributions and reverse Android fragmentation. Otherwise stats would look different. On a more profound level one of Goog main efforts in latest years was to have Linux kernel in the most recent distribution from being three years behind the latest to two.

EU officials conveniently forgot that most electronic waste and emissions come from the smartphones themselves. By far. Then from chargers. Then from tiny cables. Instead of amending laws and render mandatory seven years of support - for everyone - or non-bundled chargers they spent time debating about a connector. Note that replacing a cable and keep using your existing, non-bundled Apple charger is already common. This because Apple does lead in standardisation. Considering the lead Apple also has in ESG maybe this distortion was inevitable. Not much else Google could afford to lobby for. But still is disappointing.

I don’t get Fadell‘s argument about monopolistic behavior, though. Apple‘s marketshare in Europe is much lower, maybe 30%.

And arguably, not only Apple is the problem. So many portable electronics besides phones still ship with micro USB cables, which is also a dead end now. Probably these outnumber Lightning cables in Europe.

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