The EU’s common charger legislation could have a global impact. That means a next-generation iPhone with a USB-C port may be available sooner than you think.
The European Union has ruled that if Apple wishes to sell new iPhones in the region, those devices must include a USB-C port by the end of 2024.
That means Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector, which has been in use for more than a decade and has proven to be a significant revenue generator for the company, will have to be phased out of future iPhones. At least those heading to the EU.
“We have no choice — as we do around the world, [Apple will] comply with local laws,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said on Oct. 25 at a Wall Street Journal tech conference when asked if the company would follow the EU’s common charging law.
“We believe it would have been better for the environment and our customers if the government had not been so prescriptive.”
While the legislation technically only applies to consumer electronics sold within the EU, Apple may be forced to decide the fate of the Lightning port on iPhones destined for markets outside of the EU. Most commercial phones use the USB-C standard to charge and connect to accessories, but iPhones do not. Could this imply that future iPhones sold outside of the EU will also feature a USB-C charging port? Or will Apple make hardware changes based on geographies, such as producing two iPhone variants that support USB-C and Lightning, one for the EU and the other for the rest of the world?
Apple already modifies iPhone models on a regional basis, as it did with the iPhone 14. According to Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential, the US version only has an electronic SIM, whereas other variants retain the SIM slot. However, he believes Apple has compelling reasons to switch all iPhones to USB-C in the future.
“…Because the power/data connector has a larger ecosystem, security, and accessory considerations, I believe Apple will move all iPhones [globally] to USB-C in the iPhone 16 timeframe to comply with European regulations.”
European legislators have been pushing for electronic devices to include a standardized charger for more than a decade to reduce cable clutter and e-waste. The legislation, which was part of the revised Radio Equipment Directive, was completed in June before the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved the rule in October. Its approval is widely regarded as a victory for consumers, who will soon be able to use a single USB-C charger for a variety of accessories and devices, including higher-wattage devices such as gaming laptops and 4K monitors. Its implementation was also seen as a win for the environment. According to a European think tank, chargers generate up to 13,000 tons of e-waste per year in the EU, with associated life cycle emissions of 600 to 900 kilotons in carbon dioxide equivalents.
Apple has vehemently opposed the idea of a universal phone charger. The tech giant claims that such legislation would stifle innovation and worsen the e-waste problem by rendering the Lightning cable obsolete for potentially a billion people worldwide. Apple, which collects fees from third-party companies that manufacture made-for-iPhone accessories, could lose money on every Lightning cable and accessory compatible with the iPhone.
Despite Apple’s objections, the tech giant is said to have tested a USB-C iPhone. Ming Chi Kuo, a well-known Apple analyst, predicts that Apple will beat the EU mandate by a year, releasing a new iPhone with a USB-C port in 2023.
“USB-C could improve iPhone transfer and charging speed in hardware designs, but the final spec details still rely on iOS support,” Kuo wrote on Twitter in May.
Apple, for its part, has been phasing out Lightning in other products for several years. With the 2015 MacBook, the tech giant included USB-C. Later, Lightning was replaced with USB-C on the iPad Pro in 2018, the iPad Air in 2020, and the iPad Mini in 2021. In addition to a USB-C port on a rumored 2023 iPhone, Kuo anticipates that several other Apple accessories, including AirPods, the Magic Keyboard, and the MagSafe Battery Pack, will transition to USB-C, but he did not provide a timeline.
In the long run, the iPhone’s USB-C transition will benefit Apple customers, just as the legislation intended. Because the majority of the company’s iPads and Macs already use USB-C rather than Lightning, the change will simplify charging. To power the iPhone, MacBook, iPad, and Apple Watch, Apple fans currently require three different types of chargers. For a company that takes pride in its ecosystem, Apple provides a cumbersome charging experience that contradicts its ethos of simplicity.
“It makes sense for Apple to [switch to a USB-C iPhone] across markets because it will not only improve the experience of users who are also using iPads or Macs, but it will also simplify the supply chain,” Will Wong, a researcher manager at International Data Corporation, told CNET.
Even if Apple eventually switches to a USB-C iPhone for all models, the connector may only be used for a short time. Rumors suggest that Apple will abandon all ports on the iPhone in favor of wireless charging and connectivity, similar to Apple’s MagSafe accessories.
“With the introduction of the MagSafe wireless charger, wireless is likely to be one of the developments Apple is looking at,” Wong said. “However, there are obstacles to overcome, such as slower charging speed, before going completely portless,”
However, a USB-C iPhone is more likely than ever to hit stores worldwide. It’s been on Apple fans’ wish lists for years because a USB-C port is more convenient and transfers data faster than its Lightning counterpart. It remains to be seen whether this occurs in 2023, 2024, or later, but Apple is preparing itself and its iPhones for a transition to the EU, at the very least.