Today the European Parliament voted in favor by an overwhelming majority of new legislation that would eventually require all mobile phones sold in the EU to use a USB-C port for wired charging. The proposed rules, on which lawmakers first agreed in June, mean Apple will likely have to remove the decade-old Lightning connector from its phones and switch to USB-C if it wants to continue selling it in one of its most lucrative global markets. .
The EU’s goal is to reduce e-waste. If more devices are interoperable with the same cables, the EU thinks that fewer electronic devices and chargers are thrown away. According to estimates, 11,000 tons of discarded and unused chargers end up in landfills every year, which she hopes will ease these regulations. It also aims to save consumers money by allowing them to reuse chargers (up to €250 million, according to estimates) and reduce the lock-in effect of proprietary accessories.
The question now is: how soon will Apple be forced to switch?
The EU’s new rules — which are technically an amendment to its Radio Equipment Directive — are yet to be formally approved. While they’ve gotten the thumbs up from the bloc’s parliament, the common charger legislation has yet to be signed by the European Council and published in the EU’s Official Journal. It would then come into effect 20 days later.
But even if that happens, companies like Apple will still have a two-year grace period designed to ease the transition to a USB-C future. According to the European Parliament’s press release, this means the rules are likely to come into force by the end of 2024. They will apply to the entire industry, regardless of manufacturer. But as the only major smartphone maker to make the move to USB-C (every iPhone has used a Lightning connector since 2012, Apple is likely to have the biggest impact.
Apple releases a new flagship smartphone like a timepiece in the second half of every year, so it’s safe to assume we’ll see a new iPhone (probably dubbed the iPhone 16) around the same time that the rules of come into effect in late 2024. But since iPhones typically launch in September and EU legislation doesn’t come into effect until 24 months after it’s formally approved by the European Council, the iPhone 16 could end up just launching. before the new rules come into effect. That would make the 2025 iPhone 17 (if Apple continues with its current naming convention) its first model forced to use USB-C for wired charging.
“The new rules would not apply to products that have been put on the market before”
It’s possible that Apple could make the change sooner, but current rules suggest it isn’t technically necessary. Today’s European Parliament press release explicitly states that devices already on the market don’t have to be withdrawn – so if Apple launches an iPhone with Lightning port before the deadline, it can continue to sell the phone. “The new rules would not apply to products placed on the market before the date of application,” the press release reads. That’s a change from how the European Parliament formulated the rules in June, when a spokesperson said: The edge that “there should be no products on the market that do not comply” when the regulations come into effect, indicating that devices without USB-C ports should be withdrawn from the market.
This more forgiving phase makes it more feasible for Apple to announce and launch a Lightning port-equipped iPhone 16 in 2024, before the new EU rules come into effect. But reports suggest it could be preparing to switch to USB-C much sooner. Trusted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo recently suggested that Apple might be willing to make the change in 2023 (when it is likely to release the iPhone 15). Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman however, is more cautious about the company’s timetable, recently reporting that 2023 is the “earliest” the company could make the change.
In addition to smartphones, the rules apply to all kinds of electronic devices, including tablets, headphones, keyboards and mice, meaning Apple will also have to start offering everything from AirPods to the Magic Mouse with a USB-C port for wired charging. Laptops are also covered by the legislation, but have been given a slightly longer implementation period, meaning they won’t have to use USB-C for wired charging until early 2026. EU rules Please also note that small devices such as smartwatches or health trackers are exempt “when the small size of the product does not allow it” [them] be equipped with [a] USB Type-C connection.”
Other devices such as tablets, headphones, keyboards and mice are also affected
EU product law only applies to goods sold in member states, so it can’t force Apple to switch to USB-C for iPhones sold elsewhere in the world. That means Apple could limit its USB-C iPhones to EU markets or even leave the region entirely if it wants the iPhone to remain Lightning exclusive. But given the size of the European market as a whole (it accounted for nearly a quarter of Apple’s net sales in the past fiscal year) and Apple’s emphasis on offering as few versions of its products as possible, it seems likely that we USB-C iPhones sold around the world as a result of EU law (the company did not respond to questions about how it plans to comply with the new rules).
Like Apple For real wanted to avoid adding a Type-C port to its phones, it could completely eliminate the wired charging port. The rules state that phones must use USB-C to charge “to the extent that they can be charged via wired charging,” which leaves the door open for Apple to completely remove the wired charging port and offer some sort of hypothetical portable iPhone. That’s something that Bloomberg has reported that the company’s employees have discussed internally in the past, although it’s unclear if these discussions ever got out of the planning stage. The EU plans similar standardization rules for wireless charging at a later date.
Switching to USB-C could be a technical upgrade for the iPhone
But simpler solutions to the rules are not possible. The wording of the legislation means that Apple cannot attempt to circumvent them by offering USB-C charging via a detachable adapter (remember this?) as you continue to equip every iPhone with a Lightning port. The EU law specifically notes that a USB Type-C port “must remain accessible and operational at all times.” A detachable adapter won’t cut it.
While it has been resistant so far, Apple would have a lot to gain from moving to USB-C. Over the years, the universal connector has been upgraded to support ever-faster data transfer and charging speeds, with the latest specifications released by the USB-IF allowing up to 240W charging and 80Gbps data transfer. In contrast, the most recent iPhones reportedly top out at 27W for charging and only 480 Mbps for data transfer. No wonder Apple already makes abundant use of USB-C in its Mac and iPad lineup.
As a proprietary standard, Lightning has given Apple unprecedented control of the accessory market for its phones, but it has not kept up with the specifications of modern cables. When Apple introduced the Lightning port alongside the iPhone 5 in September 2012, Phil Schiller called it “a modern connector for the next decade.” Well, the decade has just come to an end and the EU thinks it’s time for Apple to move on.