Apple is finally set to release an adapter that lets people use the common micro-USB-based charger with its iPhones.
As the company unveiled its iPhone 4S on Tuesday, it also put the iPhone micro-USB adapter on its Apple Store websites across Europe. The adapter will ship on 14 October, as will the iPhone 4S, a souped-up version of the popular iPhone 4. However, it will sell as a paid-for extra, rather than shipping in the box with new devices.
It is now four years since major handset manufacturers including Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and LG agreed on micro-USB as the basis for a common phone charger. Industry body the GSM Association threw its weight behind the decision in February 2009, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) released a standard for the charger in October of that year.
European standardisation bodies gave their approval in December 2010, and a ceremonial handover of a common charger sample took place at the European Commission in February of this year. In May, the ITU also extended the remit of the common charger to tablets, cameras, GPS units and other devices.
By this point, Apple was one of the companies that had signed up to use the common charger in Europe. Crucially, it had not agreed to put a micro-USB port into its devices, but then again the agreement did not require it to do so.
While almost every handset-maker now includes a micro-USB port in its products, manufacturers are still able to use adapters, and Apple — which has built up a lucrative peripherals industry around its proprietary 30-pin connector — decided to take this route.
Third-party micro-USB adapters for Apple products have been available for a while. Until this week, though, Apple had refused to say when it would actually start selling adapters itself. It now seems that Apple will not include the adapters with its new iPhones, but will instead sell them as an £8 extra.
The rationale behind the common charger is largely one of environmental concern — if people do not have to accumulate a wide variety of chargers for their various portable devices, fewer materials need be used in making them and fewer chargers make their way into waste dumps. It also makes life simpler for consumers with a plethora of devices.
There are several benefits for the manufacturers, too. Europe's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive makes such manufacturers responsible for the disposal of their products, so not having to include a charger with each device makes economic sense. It also allows them to ship their products in smaller boxes, cutting down on transportation costs.