Uniform charging cables for cell phone, tablet and co. are getting closer

Lightning, Micro-USB, USB-C – anyone who uses other devices besides an iPhone, such as headphones and eBook readers, knows the problem. Each wants to be charged with its own cable. If the European Parliament has its way, this will soon be a thing of the past.

For more than a decade, the European Commission and the European Parliament have been campaigning for the standardization of charging cables for smartphones and other devices. The work of the EU institutions led to the micro-USB connector becoming the quasi-standard in smartphones, cell phones and other electronics. But now the obligation for uniform charging sockets is to be established by law. The EU Commission has submitted a proposal for this.

Enforcement of Micro-USB was a stage victory

Thanks to the European Union’s initiative, there are now practically only three different charging ports on smartphones sold in Europe: Micro-USB, USB-C and Apple’s Lightning. Considering that before, almost every manufacturer had its own charging port – or even several different ones – the initiative so far can definitely be considered a success.

However, the Micro-USB standard was never mature enough to satisfy the needs of all manufacturers. Micro-USB cables cannot be plugged in at both ends, nor do they offer enough space for additional pins, which would be necessary for stereo audio and video at the same time, for example.

Apple continues to stick with Lightning

Micro-USB is becoming less and less important and is actually only found in inexpensive devices. USB-C, on the other hand, has gained acceptance due to its versatility not only in smartphones, but also in many other areas such as headphones, tablets and laptops. Apple alone still stands with its Lightning connector, which was just used again in the iPhone 13. Only in its tablets does the manufacturer now also rely on USB-C.

After the company equipped the iPad 11 with a USB-C port for the first time in 2018, hopes arose that the iPhone could soon come with it as well. But that has not yet proven to be the case.

Lightning port on iPhone 13 too slow for video transmission?

In 2018, when the European Commission issued an “impact assessment” asking manufacturers to assess the consequences of standardizing chargers, Apple sharply criticized the plans. More than a billion Apple devices with Lightning connectors have already been sold, it said. A new law could “make the devices and accessories of several million Europeans and hundreds of millions of Apple customers worldwide obsolete.” That would lead to “unprecedented masses of electronic waste and major inconvenience for users.”

Is a standardization law on the way?

The European Parliament already indicated more than a year and a half ago that the Commission’s approach of encouraging manufacturers to cooperate voluntarily had not achieved the desired result. In January 2020, members of the European Parliament (MEP) therefore reiterated in a plenary session the call to introduce “binding measures” to standardize chargers. The uniform charging standard should include tablets, eBook readers and other portable devices in addition to cell phones, they said.

The standardization is primarily intended to help reduce electrical waste and make life easier for consumers. Instead of umpteen different charging cables, there would only need to be one that is compatible with all devices.

The European Parliament newsletter informing about the briefing states that “according to estimates, old chargers generate over 51,000 tons of electronic waste per year”. The debate should be taken up in a resolution at the next plenary session. But so far, nothing has changed in the requirements for manufacturers.

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EU Commission finally goes a step further

The Brussels-based authority wants to present a legislative proposal for standardized charging sockets on electrical devices on September 23. It envisages USB-C as the general standard for charging sockets in devices. In addition, customers should no longer be required to also buy a power adapter when they buy a new cell phone, for example. Among other things, the EU Commission would like to propose a directive in the draft, which the EU states and the European Parliament still have to negotiate. With this demand, however, the Commission is lagging behind the market trend. Because Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers now deliver their smartphones without a power supply unit.

The proposed legislation must now be discussed by EU member states and the European Parliament. After that, both sides will have to find a common line. The Parliament in particular is likely to exert pressure, as it has been pushing for standardized charging cables for years. After an agreement between the European Parliament and the EU member states, the national governments would still have one year to implement the new rules in national law. The Commission’s proposal is also likely to provide a two-year transition period for companies, according to sources at the agency. So by 2024 at the earliest, the uniform charging socket would be mandatory for companies – and the tangle of cables in households would decline. By then, charging cables may only play a minor role, because devices will be charged wirelessly more and more often in the future.

With material from dpa