EU plans to pass common phone charger law: Et tu, Apple?

EU plans to pass common phone charger law: Et tu, Apple?

Summary: Europe wants all phones in the region to comply with a common charging standard, as Apple remains the lone wolf to not adopt the micro-USB port. But is Apple falling behind, or in fact setting the future trend?

Apple was the only mobile maker signed up to an EU pledge that didn't adopt the micro-USB standard in its devices. (Image: Apple)

The latest brainbox idea out of Brussels is to pass a law that would see every mobile manufacturer operating in the region — which is pretty much all of them — adopt a universal phone and tablet device charging standard.

In itself, it seems quite plausible — sensible, even. In reality, though, getting almost every major mobile company in the world on the same page is going to be quite a task.

On Thursday, the European Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO) voted in principle to move towards a law forcing companies to comply with a universal charging standard. The resolution was adopted by the committee unanimously, with 35 votes in favor.

"[D]evices and their accessories, such as chargers, should be interoperable," members of the European Parliament were quoted as saying, "mak[ing] mobile phones simpler to use and cut costs and waste for users."

At this stage, thanks to the overly complex nature of Brussels-based bureaucracy, a law has not yet been passed, but the initial resolution is a push in the right direction. Any such law could take years to form.

The humble micro-USB charger has for many years been the unofficial standard phone and mobile device charger across nearly all manufacturers the world over.

Nearly all, that is. Apple still has yet to play ball.

There's a back story to this.

Back in 2009, the European standards agencies chose the micro USB as the universal interface point for smartphones in the now 28-member state bloc. It came after pressure from consumers and industry groups, which were concerned about the lack of interoperability between device accessories. If you had a Nokia phone, you couldn't power it up with a Motorola charger, for instance.

Mobile manufacturers were told to either sort the issue out themselves or face mandatory EU legislation. A non-legally binding "memorandum of understanding" saw 14 different companies, including Apple, sign up to a pledge to commit to offering a compatible charger on the basis of the micro-USB connector.

As a result, all the companies — including Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, and Huawei — modified their at-the-time upcoming and future devices to adopt the standard. This not only had an effect across Europe, but also the world.

Except, Apple kept its 30-pin adapter for its iPhones and iPads regardless. Because the memorandum isn't legally binding, the Cupertino, California-based technology giant could carry on without taking (too much) flak from European politicians.

Apple's 30-pin connector, along with its newer Lightning port, allow for audio and video streaming, whereas micro-USB based devices only support data transfers and charging. It's why some come with an HDMI or other video ports. Also, transferring vast amounts of data in the gigabyte-plus range is far quicker over Apple's ports than over micro USB.

Apple does, however, provide adapters (at a cost) that convert its 30-pin adapter into a USB-based port, but they are only available in Europe. The Lightning port to micro-USB cable adapters are, however, available worldwide.

Though USB may have been the standard back in 2009, there's no direct mention of the popular port in Thursday's resolution. Though Apple may have been chastised for its proprietary port for years, it may well have been far ahead of the curve if mobile manufacturers choose to adopt a faster, better technology that suits consumers of today.

Topics: Mobility, Smartphones

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  • Cables are Old-school

    Apple innovates by bringing a cable to the masses; Nokia innovate by eliminating the cable altogether. Apple aren't the innovators they once were.
    • Tell me more

      I don't know anything about the cable-less Nokia. Are they just chargers or can they also transfer data at speeds close to usb or Apple's lightning.
      • Miracast & Chromecast are wireless

        Cables may indeed by old school if the video and audio can be streamed over wireless protocols, such as Miracast and Chromecast.

        The main players are all working towards wireless, as the humble smartphone will take on the roll of television remote control. If you use your phone for audio streaming you certainly don't want to have a cable from the phone to the HiFi.

        Which means that micro-USB will be fine for power charging, and for those few times when you want to use a cable to your PC.
        • Wires gone the way of dinosaurs?

          I got one of those new DROID phones, wireless charging is built in along with Miracast. Now you have services like Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, AirDroid, Kies, etc... for wireless transfer of data.

          Qualcomm just started backing the Qi Standard for charging. Hopefully this means that we will soon see desks and furniture that come Qi chargers. Also, to boot, I got a Qi charger for around $35, so they are pretty affordable.
    • On my Nokia 920 the micro usb port might as well not even exist

      I never use, and data transfer over a cord???? ever heard of wifi?

      At least I have an extra wired cable to charge the work Samsung S2 phone, that thing is tied to the hip to a micro usb.
    • IOS devices have been anble to synch wirelessley

      for a long time. Charging? No, and I would like to see that innovation be the focus of this sort of legislative initiative, rather than taking us back to stone-age micro-USB standard. As the article rightly points out - this stupidity forces manufacturers' to add additional ports for HDMI which makes the devices less easy to use, you have to carry more cables, and you have another entry point on your smartphone for environmental contamination.

    • Really?

      And when you go away and forget your charging mat then what?
    • Wireless charging

      Is a criminal waste of electricity due to it's very poor efficiency. Are you so lazy that the simple act of putting a plug in a socket is challenging for you ?
      Alan Smithie
      • Costs more...

        Uses more resources=generates more e-waste on retirement AND uses more power. Wow! What's not to like about wireless charging? Truly innovative indeed.

        I agree, and here I thought the whole point about standardizing the chargers was to DECREASE waste, not magnify it.
  • Just when I thought America held the crown

    for stupid laws, here comes the EU.
    • Why is this a stupid law?

      • Yeah, what ye asked.

        Why is it a stupid law?
        Hallowed are the Ori
        • Because Apple has violated nobody's rights

          The purpose of (just) government is to protect rights from being violated. Apple has the absolute right to put whatever cable connector on their devices that they want. The fact that many manufacturers choose a standard connector and Apple does not is immaterial. If fact, restricting Apple, or anyone else, from putting whatever connector they want on their devices is a violation of that company's rights. Apple's decision to not comply with the standard violates absolutely nobody's rights. If you don't like the connector Apple chooses, don't buy their phones. *That* would be within your rights. Putting a gun to Apple's head and forcing them to use the connector that government, in its infinite(ssimal) wisdom has decided is best, is not.
          • rights

            Apple absolutely has the right to put whatever connector they want on the phone. EC has the right to ban the import of any phone not using the specified connector.
          • The government NEVER has that

            Right. It may have the power, but never the right.
          • That’s just your opinion

            You’re welcome to your opinion of the purpose of the state, but the rest of us are free to disagree. In Europe at least, most of us do, so your view is not the one held by our democratically elected governments. For those of us with more modern views of the role of the state, the key issue here is the trade-off between efficiency and flexibility.

            Governments impose all sorts of mandatory standards, which have benefits in terms of efficiency, but costs in terms of reduced flexibility. Whether standardisation is worth doing depends on the particular market. A standard for phone chargers is no different to any of the others, and if economic analyses by EC economists suggest it’s worth doing, then it probably is.
      • because it restricts freedom for no good reason?

        if you think you can do a better type of cable/connector you should be able to do it. This law stiffles innovation and what do you get in return? sweet nothing.
        • No reason?

          They provided excellent reasons -- lower cost and greater interoperability.

          It's been nice having to worry about just one kind of cable the past few years. Apple's refusal to be compatible with everything I have is yet another reason I have none of their stuff.
          • Your post just clarified why the law is not needed

            You don't like that Apple is not interoperable, so you don't buy Apple. Others like the features the Lightning connector provides, so they buy Apple. You, in your arrogant moral superiority aren't just satisfied with not buying Apple's cable, but making sure no one else can either.
          • actually

            While you are up on that high horse, I should point out that if Samsung decided to opt out I would favor banning them too. And Nokia. And Microsoft. And any other manufacturer. 51,000 tonnes of waste generated annually because they can't settle on a charger. They were told 3 years ago to make a decision or have it made for them, and Apple opted for the latter.