EU to Require USB-C for Mobile Devices

Posted on September 23, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Hardware, Mobile with 73 Comments

Despite Apple’s complaints, the European Union is ready to introduce legislation that will require device makers to use USB-C as a common charging solution.

“Today, the Commission takes an important step against e-waste and consumer inconvenience, caused by the prevalence of different, incompatible chargers for electronic devices,” an EU press release explains. “Years of working with industry on a voluntary approach already brought down the number of mobile phone chargers from 30 to 3 within the last decade, but could not deliver a complete solution. The Commission is now putting forward legislation to establish a common charging solution for all relevant devices.”

The main holdout against this common-sense plan is Apple, which uses USB-C for connectivity and charging on all of its primary hardware platforms except for one, the iPhone. And that despite the fact that iPhones could easily accommodate USB-C instead of the slower, inferior, and proprietary Lightning port. With Apple moving to USB-C everywhere else, only one conclusion makes sense: Apple is resisting USB-C on iPhones specifically because an outside force is requiring it to acquiesce.

“We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger,” EU vice president Margrethe Vestager said, alluding to Apple’s pushback. “This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions.”

She’s right. Regardless of your take on Apple, what the EU proposes makes sense: there will be a single charging standard across all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles. And the EU also wants to unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices, an act that will improve the experience for consumers and reduce environmental waste.

The proposed legislation will now head to the European Parliament and the Council, and the EU expects a two-year transition period to give the industry time to adapt to a change that most made years ago anyway.

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Comments (73)

73 responses to “EU to Require USB-C for Mobile Devices”

  1. navarac

    One of the more sensible EU dictats.

  2. JH_Radio

    Government overreach! That's exactly what this is. Ok so apple said no to USB-C on phones so far. Why does it matter? As I see it, they are slowly moving their way toward it. This still screams of government overreach to me. You can just tell the European union is not a capitalist society.

  3. pbeiler1

    Legislating technology is just a bad idea.

  4. randallcorn

    Sell the charger separately from the phone. I can see this. But will it reduce the cost of the phone because you don't supply a charger now? Nope.

  5. mi1984

    These entities should be working together, I'm sick of proprietary  garbage

  6. mikeharris123

    The MFI money truck is pulling out of the car park (though what's a couple of billion to Apple).

    I expect laptops will be next, though every laptop I have had for the last 3 or 4 years already has USB (Pixelbook, Macbook Air and Dell Latitude).

    USB C has gotten much better and I travel with one dual adapter now for my laptops, iPad, iPhone and Android phone and it can charge two devices at once fairly rapidly.

    Early USB C was a farce, but that has been gone for the last 3 years at least.

  7. joeaxberg

    Picking on Apple is fun and all, but this law has to be about more than just forcing Apple to do something it doesn't want. I know that is great entertainment, but what is the exact purpose of this law? To get manufacturers on a common standard (regardless of who they are) or reduce e-waste or both?

    Personally I'm all for everything, and I mean everything, adopting a common charging connector. Everything.

    But...I'm curious, does this law would apply to all electronic devices or just mobile phones?

    In the article it mentions "relevant devices." Best Buy is full of devices (unsure if they rise to level of "relevant") still powered/charged by micro-usb as well as well as barrel-connectors. I just picked up two Android tablets for app testing and to my surprise one had micro-usb. I returned it.

    Myriad other devices too, such as some micro-usb connectored portable speaker or whatever. Would those devices also need to change?

    They would REALLY make my day if they mandated a common barrel connector for laptops as well. Never understood why every...damn....single...vendor....had to have a different barrel connector.

    Seems to me that iPhone users would already have drawers full of lightening cables, so those suddenly all become e-waste too don't they with a switch to USB-C (not instantly, but still)? Is the e-waste concern cables? Chargers?

    • jgraebner

      With iPhone holding a significant market-share, peripherals like portable charges, wired headphones, docks, etc. generally have to include two sets of cables and/or either a lightning or USB-C adapter. Frequently, the one that is not needed is tossed in the trash.

  8. maktaba

    This woman, Margrethe Vestager, doesn’t seem to know anything about computers.

  9. red.radar

    Before People harsh on Apple too badly I would like to point out that Microsoft was deliberitly slow about transitioning the Surface devices. The logic was sound. There was an install base of docks and accessories that corporate customers wanted to leverage.

    You look at how Ipads and mobile devices are integrated into a variety of point of sale applications and how many years they were sold I think Apple was doing the right thing being slow and deliberate about changing.

    They started with the lower volume pro lines of their tablets and computers. Then they worked systematically to the higher volume devices. This way there isn't a large rash of e-waste and it gives time for the accesory market to materialize to make an orderly transition.

    I just think people are impatient and worse yet the innovation has been stifled. I guess the Portless Iphone is illegal.

    • foxstar

      Nah, they had plenty of time to “innovate” a USB C port that they helped create on to one of their lines of iPhone. They should’ve added it to the Pro’s, but they didn’t. Now the EU has to be the adult in the room and firmly say “No” and make Apple comply. Apple like most corporations are like children and must be told what to do.

  10. red.radar

    EU is tilting at windmills.

    people will still throw away chargers and cables because they will wear out or new chargers and phones will come to the market with better capabilities causing the slower or inferior ones to be thrown in the trash.

    The shape and pin out of the port is irrelevant.

  11. igor engelen

    Isn't Apple already working towards this? My old iPad Pro has a usb-c, and I think the new iPad mini also got usb-c.

  12. erikaggie

    I wonder how much of their focus is on cheap devices (low-end wireless headphones, Kindles--until this week, Android phones, etc.) that still charge via microUSB? Probably not just Apple they're concerned with.

  13. ken10

    I understand why the EU did this. I disagree it was their role - as mentioned - overreach.

  14. bostonsteve

    Not that this ruling affects laptops, but isn't Apple moving back to MagSafe with the next MacBook Air?

  15. christianwilson

    I am all for the iPhone adopting USB-C, but I don't like the idea of mandating the requirement.

    Will this prevent a future, superior port from being used on phones?

  16. ken_loewen

    +1 to @ben55124 and see also wireless charging approaches. Let's hope the EU doesn't go all ham-handed and lock-in the charger equivalent of buggy whips.

  17. ben55124

    I hope this law has an expiration date to allow for innovation. USB-C is ok now, but a law like this a few years ago would have locked in micro-usb.

  18. madthinus

    I hope this means we can standardise on more than just phones. I have a kindle, two pairs of headphones, they use micro usb. Then I have several usb c devices, ps5 and xbox series. Lastly I have lightning, which is just usb c over a different connector. So please pass this

  19. plm

    This kind of bureaucratic overreach is what brought us Brexit. Wouldn't the world be better served if the Euro-crats wouldn't incentivize policies like Brexit?

  20. red.radar

    USB-C does too much.

    the newer cables needed to be wired to handle the 5

    • red.radar

      Wish there was an edit feature.

      the newer cables needed to be wired to handle the 5A capability. But there is a lot of the older 3A, 1.5A and 900mA cables still in circulation. I also think they are playing with fire increasing the voltage from 5v 9, 15, 20 to now 48V in the latest iteration. I also can’t wait for someone to plug into a faulty community charger and 48V gets placed on a circuit it wasn’t designed for.

      • sevenacids

        Nope. A charger will never apply high voltages unless the device doesn't ask for it. It's all in the software, there is negotiation in the protocol and if it fails or the device is not implementing it, all it gets is the old-school 5 V/100 mA (or up to 500 mA if the appropriate resistors on the dataline are detected).

  21. L Gilles

    1. Portless so wireless is allowed, don't be stupid.

    2. It's a Directive so it'll take 2 years to come to life so I think the next 2 iPhones and iPads are safe if it's not voted yet.

    3. Billions of lightning cables and accessories will be useless, hum ...

    4. I have a dozen USB-C cable and they are probably alright for charging but the data transfert rate is all messed up. So difficult to know what is the fast transfert cable ...

  22. digiguy

    The EU is probably the only body that can force Apple to align with this global port and not let get away with either keeping on milking lightning or going "portless" and milking magsafe on iPhones

  23. bleduc

    This is about chargers not devices. Apple already has USB-C chargers and USB-C to Lightening cables. This is a non-story.

  24. VancouverNinja

    This is common sense. Having 5 chargers produced for 5 different devices, that someone may own, when they shouldn't need that many chargers is environmentally irresponsible. I have always hated traveling with multiple chargers when I could have gotten away with one and simply used additional cables to charge up my other devices.

    Those arguing that law will become an issue, to not be able to remove a USB-C port and simply going wireless charging, have not have not thought it through. Wireless charging is nowhere near ubiquitous in the world and not having any way to charge your phone without a wireless charging base would be bonkers crazy; it would however create many new chargers (again) everywhere specially for wireless charging and once again create a wasteful, overly expensive, and environmentally poor situation. Some innovations are very good - but a pure wireless device with no charging port would be a horrible idea for the foresee able future. Of note I have outlets throughout my house that have both standard USB and USB-C connections that allow me to charge most of my devices wherever I am without the need of charging unit. I would gladly purchase devices without another darn charger.

    • red.radar

      But even in your own example you perfectly illustrated why this directive is not needed. You use a charger with multiple usb ports and supply the cables. Which you have to do in the USB-C realm because each cable has different capabilities. There are USB-C that only has the USB-2.0 data lines pinned out. There are others with the USB 3.2 and then some that are full thunderbolt 40Gbps rated. Then there are cables of different gauges to support different power rates. Your laptop that needs 100w to charge is not the same cable as your basic smartphone with simple 5w charging. So to get the full capabilities of the device you have to have different cables. And once you have different cables then who cares if one end has USB-C, Lightning or a barrel.

    • lvthunder

      The iPhone 12 and 13 don't come with a charger. They come with a cable that has USB-C on one end and Lightning on the other.

  25. MoopMeep

    Does this mean they can still use lighting but can give you a usb-c to lighting adapter (which would be worse for the environment).

    I like usb-c and all but its annoying how they keep changing the usb charging ports. I have a few usb devices that use the small squarey type connector (looks like two rectangles stacked on each other) and a bunch of more recent ones that use the triangaly shaped connector.

    I hope they stick with this current version, its a pain when they switch.

  26. yaddamaster

    having solved all other important issues in the EU.......

    this is dumb. Let's stiffle further innovation because Apple is being a dick.

    • foxstar

      Your’re right. Look at how Apple has innovatived the Lighting port over the last decade. Oh way, they haven’t. The port hasn’t improved and is the same connector that it was 9 years ago. Just look at Macbooks to see the changes during that time from A to C to Thunderbolt.

      Apple was given enough time, now it’s time for them to comply.

  27. yoshi

    Even the most hardcore Apple fan can't deny that iPhones should be using USB-C. And should have been long ago. Hell, even the wall charger they make for the iPhone uses USB-C.

    • lvthunder

      I will deny it. There are millions of devices that use lightning. When I upgraded my iPad I had to buy a new $100 Pencil because my series 1 pencil would not work with the new iPad because it didn't have a lightning port. Yeah, the new pencil is nice, but I would have rather had $100 in my pocket.

      • davidlbangs

        Lightning cables don’t last more than a couple of months for me because there are so many thin strips of metal that can peel if you plug and unplug a lot. USB C cables last forever. Give me a cable type so I don’t have to have both USB and lightning in my car and at every desk.

      • Jogy

        Your situation would have been exactly the same if Apple have decided to introduce a new LightningV2 port that is not compatible with the old one.

        With the USB-C requirement, you know that Apple will not be able to pull that trick in the near future

        All my newer mobile devices (phones, tablets) have a USB-C charging port and it is very convenient.

  28. mmurfin87

    This seems dumb. Time was ripe back when there were 30 standards. Now, what happens when USB4, 5, and 6 come out? Or when Apple goes wireless only? This is a great way to stagnate.

    • wright_is

      USB-C is the port shape, it can take USB 1.0 through USB 4, currently, for data speeds. But, the big bonus is that it has a defined power profile, which allows the charger and the device to negotiate the optimum power delivery and it can power everything from a camera, through smartphones up to laptops.

      The current version of USB-C power delivery supports over 65W, for example. I have a 90W docking station and I can plug in my Samsung smartphone or my iPad Air and it will charge them optimally.

      • red.radar

        You can only put so many conductors into the space of USB-C. So if you want more power delivery or more bandwidth you will hit limits to what USB-C can do.

        So when USB-D comes along I guess Europe will not benefit. or we get ugly connectors like the USB 3.0 version of micro-usb.

        • freezal

          Technically that is not true power only requires 2/3 connectors that are currently there, more power simply requires more conductivity to hold the extra current since voltage does not change. And for data USB is serial the number of wires does not need to change to transfer more data. Simply a change in the signaling speed as seen by USB-c going from 4 mbps all the way up to 40+ mbps without changing the connector.

          And everyone gets all personal about this but if USB-C is the standard then public places can provide a single connector to charge devices of any manufacturer. Imagine if you no longer needed to take your charging setup because everywhere you travel is a USB-C changing solution. This is the reduction of e-waste.

          • lvthunder

            Go ask a security expert if plugging a data connector into your device from an unknown origin is a good idea.

          • red.radar

            Your comment is accurate but ignored the fact that to change the resistive losses of the wire you have to change the dimensions of the wire. The cable dimension limits your ability. Furthermore high clock rates limit the length the signal can travel. That is why all thunderbolt cables are less than 1m.

            fundamentally to get more bandwidth we need fiber optic or more parallel copper strands at lower frequencies. But usbc limits our ability.

      • mmurfin87

        I get how USB works. My point is that by mandating a single standard with the force of law, you aren't just excluding other standards that exist today, you're excluding better standards that may exist tomorrow as well.

        • wright_is

          When something better comes along, you put your case, get an exception, whilst the law is updated.

          They gave manufacturers several years to comply and get their house in order voluntarily, but they didn't... So now they are going to be forced. If industry had cooperated (I'm looking at Apple here, for example), then they could have left it voluntary and the standard could be changed at a future date, if a better method was invented.

          • lvthunder

            Sure because getting an exemption is an easy thing. Maybe they should give Apple an exemption so that their customers don't have to throw away all their lightning devices.

            • anoldamigauser

              Or Apple sells a USB-C to Lightning connector at some huge markup.

              • wright_is

                Most Apple iPhones already come with an USB-C to Lightning cable in the box (and no power adapter any more).

                My company iPhone SE came with just a USB-C to Lightning cable. Although my iPad Air came with a USB-C charger and USB-C cable. My wife's iPad mini came with a USB-A charger and Lightning cable.

                Also, Amazon Basics sells a cable in red that passes to my boss' iPhone 11 Red.

    • digiguy

      The shape of the connector will in no way hinder innovation (we have seen it already)

  29. anoldamigauser

    I welcome standardization but in my experience the USB-C connectors and ports have been more fragile than others.

  30. nine54

    How is this not overreach? If people are frustrated by the iPhone's lightning port, then hold Apple accountable at the register. It's annoying if everything you have except the iPhone supports USB-C, but Lightning cables are ubiquitous, especially among existing Apple customers. And most newer phones can be charged with most chargers if you have the right cable. So what exactly is the "e-waste"? The cables?

    I'm not defending Apple, but this is a "problem" that should left to the market to solve.

  31. mattbg

    I like this, but would this mean that no phone maker will be allowed to remove the USB-C port and switch to wireless charging exclusively?

  32. wunderbar

    this happened before, with microusb. all that happened was that Apple included a micro USB to lightning adapter in the box.

  33. j5

    Am I the only that’s like who cares!? I mean seriously it’s a freaking charging cable for electronics…..

  34. sabarrett

    This is stupid. No reason for government to mandate a standard. Technology will evolve and something better will become available, however we won't be able to use it as it will be mandated to have USB-C. Technology will outpace how fast government can react. It makes sense now, however in the years to come, it will be detrimental.

  35. tallguyse

    So Apple will have to add a USB-C port to my Apple Watch?

    • SvenJ

      Probably not, and they could just remove the charge port on iPhones altogether and just leave MagSafe. Careful what you wish for...or legislate.

      • jwpear

        I think this is exactly what Apple is planning to do and one reason why they have resisted USB-C on the iPhone. I've been using wireless charging since my Lumia Icon days. I'd be okay with complete removal of the port if my vehicle supported wireless CarPlay.

  36. red.radar

    I know I have commented a lot in this article, but I will leave with this last point.

    I have concerns about the latest iteration of the USB Power Delivery Spec. They want to put 48V on the VBUS pins to allow the 240W charging through a single cable. The pin pitch on USB C is 0.5mm. Depending on the product Safety standard you want to reference that is cutting it close for creepage.

    Lets assume the material between the pins is polycarb (cheep plastic), then CTI is about 161-256. So that is Material group IIIa by UL840. And UL 840 for pollution degree 2 environments quotes 1.2mm of creepage distance needed for materials that are not circuit boards. Lets assume they are using GOOD Stuff and it has a CTI > 600. You still need .6mm of clearance for Pollution degree 2 environments.

    Now Pollution degree 2 is generous for a mobile device. PD2 is Normally only non conductive pollution with maybe a temporary conductivity caused by condensation. Pollution degree 3 is for Conductive pollution or non conductive pollution that becomes conductive due to condensation. If you assume "Good Stuff" Materials with a CTI > 600 in a PD3 environment you need 1.5mm of creepage.

    In all cases the creepage needed is larger than the distance of the pins.

    OK so what does this mean... you get dirty connectors or use the device in a dirty environment (shop, garage, Kitchen) and over time you will get shorts that will develop between the power pins and neighboring pins. Then add in the chaos from poorly made cables because all USB-C connectors look alike and there is going to be a range of incidents. From damage to electronics that gets improperly blamed on the consumer to straight up fires.

    Maybe I have mis-read things and I created a slipperly slope of BS. However, I still believe the industry is trying to do too much with USB-C. It looks like the margin of safety is eroding to very thin levels and I think product safety organizations like UL should investigate.

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