Following lengthy campaigning, negotiations and delays, the EU has finally approved a ruling that could see the iPhone forced to adopt the USB-C standard by fall 2024.
Negotiators have reached a provisional agreement on amendments to the Radio Equipment Directive that will make USB-C the common charging port for all mobile phones in the EU, along with laptops, tablets, digital cameras, handheld games consoles, e-readers and other portable electronic devices.
Apple has yet to respond to the news, but the timing of the ruling may play into its hands. Ming-Chi Kuo claimed last month that the company was already planning to switch from Lightning to USB-C, and would do so in 2023. In other words, the iPhone 14 could be the last Lightning iPhone. We’ll know more when Apple unveils its new iPhones this fall, but few analysts expect a USB-C iPhone that soon.
Of course, Apple has other options when considering its response. For one thing–and this assumes it isn’t already using this strategy–it could fight back and attempt to lobby and appeal its way out: few tech companies have access to such extensive legal, political and financial resources. At this point, however, the EU does appear to have made up its mind.
In theory, since the ruling applies to the EU only, Apple could create two versions of its iPhones from 2024 onwards, with USB-C models sold in Europe and Lightning elsewhere, but this too seems unlikely given the logistical burden this would place on the company’s supply chain.
A more likely approach, given the relatively long time Apple has to comply with the ruling, would be to skip over the USB-C stage and go straight to portless. An iPhone with no charging ports at all has long been rumored, and would offer advantages in terms of waterproofing and slimline design. Wireless charging (which Apple currently champions with its proprietary MagSafe tech) is slower and less efficient than wired charging, however, and many users like to have the option of plugging in wired headphones: they put up with the loss of 3.5mm but to have the option of neither Lightning nor USB-C would be an extra pain. In terms of both manufacturing practicality and user readiness we suspect that the portless iPhone is further off than 2024.
So it looks like this is an extra pointer towards Apple adopting USB-C on its iPhones in either 2023 or 2024. Which isn’t such a hardship, since the company already uses the standard on so many of its MacBooks and iPads.
The move has been a long time coming. As long ago as 2014, the European Parliament was advocating for a common charger standard that all mobile phones would be obliged to use; a resolution followed in January 2020 calling on the European Commission to adopt such a standard “as a matter of urgency in order to avoid further internal market fragmentation.” The legislation that was approved today was first discussed in September last year.
“Today we have made the common charger a reality in Europe,” said European Parliament representative Alex Agius Saliba in a press release. “European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device. Now they will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics.”