Let’s Talk About Enforcing USB-C Everywhere

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

The EU Wants All Phones to Work With Interoperable Chargers, Here’s What That Means for Apple's Lightning Port - MacRumors

To reduce cost, electronic waste and make consumers' lives easier, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) want "binding measures" that ensure chargers fit all smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices.

This is a Slightly uncommon “explainer” article on MacRumors and I think it's a really good way to get up to speed on the EU’s recent attempt to normalize chargers across all phones.

Here's the thing, I'm pretty liberal and support government doing quite a few things to ensure the quality of life of the general public. That said, I think this is an example of overreach and doesn't make much sense at all.

First off, let’s just get one thing out of the way: this is a law that would basically only make Apple change their current behavior. If you look at the rest of the smartphone market, it’s basically entirely USB-C everywhere. Yes, there is the occasional micro-USB phone, but those are pretty rare and are only used on very low cost phones and are a part of keeping prices low on those budget devices.

Second, this is addressing a problem that I think we all suspect is going away shortly anyway. Every Apple laptop charges with USB-C. The new iPad Pros released in 2018 use USB-C. Every Mac they sell is all in on USB-C (some would say to a fault). It’s just the iPhone that’s not using the standard, and we all pretty much agree that it’s only a matter of time (1-2 year max) before they switch over there too.

Third, what do we do in 5 years when there is a successor to USB-C that is better in every way? Are phone makers expected to wait for the EU to approve that new connector before they can use it?

Like I said, I get the need to laws and support plenty of corporate regulations, but this just doesn’t make sense to me. The market drove all non-Apple phone makers to USB-C and that same market is pushing Apple to follow suit. Lightning used to be a differentiator because it was better than micro-USB, but in 2020 it’s hard to argue anything besides “momentum” that makes it more of a feature than a burden.

I love USB-C, and everything in my technical life with the exception of my iPhone uses it, so yeah it is inconvenient that the iPhone has a different plug. But Apple does not currently, nor will they ever have a monopoly in smartphones. I think there is plenty the EU could be doing that would be more helpful than this.