What Europe’s drive to simplify chargers means to you?

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My phone uses a different charging cable than my laptop, which uses a different cable than my PC’s keyboard, which for some reason uses the same charging cable as my toothbrush.

In other words, my life is maddeningly full of cords. And I’m not the only one.

This week, the European Union reached a preliminary agreement that requires products like those (except maybe the toothbrush) sold within its borders to use the same USB-C charging port. That means companies using proprietary technology, like Apple, have to make some big changes.

Smartphones must have a common charging port by 2024, EU says

According to a statement from the European Parliament, the aim is to “make products in the EU more sustainable, reduce electronic waste and make life easier for consumers”.

Here’s our brief guide to what the EU plan is calling for and what it could mean for all of us beyond Europe’s borders.

What is actually happening?

The EU wants to ensure that people can use one type of charger to power many different portable electronic devices. That list includes smartphones, tablets, headphones, cameras, e-readers, handheld game consoles, Bluetooth speakers, keyboards, computer mice, and other gadgets that you charge by plugging in a cable.

Assuming both the European Parliament and the European Council sign this decision after their summer recess, hardware makers and tech companies have until the fall of 2024 to ensure that certain products have USB-C ports.

The situation for laptops is slightly different: the companies that manufacture them have 40 months from when European lawmakers approve the agreement to ensure their computers support USB-C charging.

Aside from mandating a “regular” charger, the EU also hopes to standardize charging speeds for gadgets – such as smartphones – that support faster charging.

Much of the talk about the EU’s decision has centered on Apple, and for good reason: The company’s iPhones have been using its proprietary Lightning charging system for nearly a decade, and it doesn’t seem to have many options other than completely shutting it down. to replace.

It probably can’t put a Lightning to USB-C dongle in iPhone boxes and call it a day, as the proposal says the USB-C connector must “remain accessible and operational at all times.” And Alex Agius Saliba, chief negotiator for the European Parliament, said at a press conference that “if Apple wants to market their products, sell their products within our internal market, they have to abide by our rules” about building a USB -C connector in their devices.

To no one’s surprise, that’s a transition the company has reportedly been testing behind closed doors. After all, it’s not that the company isn’t a fan of the connector — it already uses USB-C charging on its laptops and in a handful of iPad models, though the cheaper tablets continue to use Lightning ports.

But could Apple build separate USB-C versions of the iPhone for use in Europe, while the rest of us get models with Lightning ports? That thought has occurred to some industry observers, although they don’t really expect Apple to make that decision.

“I think the most likely outcome here is that Apple will move the iPhone to USB-C globally instead of making two slightly different designs,” said Aaron Perzanowski, a lawyer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “I’m not a supply chain expert, but I can’t imagine that would be an efficient approach.”

Carolina Milanesi, president of tech analyst firm Creative Strategies, also doesn’t expect Apple to maintain different iPhone models for specific markets. “Normally they don’t,” she says. “I also expected that they wouldn’t move to USB-C until this year [because] everything already has it.”

When asked about the impact of the EU’s decision, Apple declined to comment.

How will this affect users in the US?

This whole saga is set in Europe, and (at the risk of saying the obvious), the EU has no direct control over how companies act, or what they do, outside of Europe. Does this mean those of us outside of Europe will not feel the effects of this shift?

It’s not unheard of for companies to decide that it doesn’t really make sense to work with one set of standards in Europe and another for the rest of the world. Think of companies like Microsoft: While it reconfigured its products and services to comply with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it decided to extend this protection to users elsewhere. (Funnily enough, this phenomenon has come to be known as the Brussels effect.)

In this case it could mean that Apple and similar companies are making the move to one type of charging connector around the world.

“If that’s true, it’s another powerful illustration of the Brussels effect, and one that has broader implications,” Perzanowski said.

Don’t expect your life with your gadgets to change overnight if companies really embrace the change. First, if everything goes according to the EU’s plans, hardware makers will have years to abide by the rules. And since USB-C is already the de facto charging standard for many types of consumer electronics, some eager early adopters may not notice much of a shift at all.

But others could. For them, the number of different cables they rely on during the day could decrease. You may not have to pack so much when you go on vacation, or you may not have to worry about your phone dying on a night out because the bartender didn’t have the right one. Put another way, some of us can live our lives with something less clunky to worry about — and that’s for a good reason.

What should I do in the meantime?

Since tech companies and legislators are already thinking about cables and ports anyway, this is a great opportunity for you to do the same.

If you’re up to your neck in old charging cables, resist the urge to just toss them in the trash. Instead, stack them up and drop them off at an e-waste facility or big-box tech retailer. “Outdated cords and cables are generally high in copper and can be 100% recycled,” said Linda Gabor, executive vice president of media relations at Call2Recycle.

Here’s how to reuse and recycle your old technology

iPhone users who rely on accessories that plug directly into the Lightning port may also want to take some time to consider which ones they really need. Apple wouldn’t comment on future product plans, but if the EU has its way, future iPhones may not be able to connect to those add-ons at all.

If that’s you, and you know you want to keep using those accessories, consider setting aside a known good iPhone to use alongside — just in case they don’t get replaced with a USB-C friendly model.

And if you’re thinking of leading the way and stocking up on USB-C cables ahead of time, be carefulMake sure you are diligent in reading the reviews and avoiding suspiciously cheap ones. Not all cables are created equal, and even now — years since it went mainstream — USB-C is still a bit of a mess.

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