Apple forced to make a major change that will affect millions of iPhone users


Apple forced to make a major change that will affect millions of iPhone users – so what will it mean for Aussies?

  • The EU agreed a rule for a uniform charging cord for phones and other devices 
  • Currently, iPhones use Apple’s proprietary connector technology, ‘Lightning’ 
  • Apple could opt to only sell iPhones with USB-C around the world
  • Could mean new iPhones will no longer be able to be charged using old chargers

An Australian tech expert believes Apple will stop selling iPhones fitted with the ‘Lightning’ charger Down Under after the European Union mandated a universal connector to reduce electronic waste and make consumers’ lives easier.

The EU’s rule, announced in Strasbourg on Tuesday, means Apple will have to change the charging port on its devices in all 27 EU countries by 2024.

Apple will have to start fitting its iPhones and other devices with a USB-C charger, already used for Android devices, rather than its own proprietary power connector technology, known as ‘Lightning’.

Apple now faces the decision on whether to make USB-C standard on all new iPhones or only those sold in EU countries. 

To simplify things, Apple could just opt to make devices with USB-C ports.

Michael Cowling, an IT expert at Central Queensland University believes that USB-C will become standard on all iPhones sold in Australia.

‘It’s the end of life for Lightning,’ he said.

The situation is comparable to 5G a couple of years ago, when various countries had different standards, Dr Cowling said. 

Apple will have to start fitting its iPhones and other devices with a USB-C charger (pictured), already used for Android devices

Apple will have to start fitting its iPhones and other devices with a USB-C charger (pictured), already used for Android devices

iPhones use Apple's proprietary power connector technology 'Lightning', discernable by its eight pins (pictured). In EU countries - and Northern Ireland - this will have to be replaced by USB-C by 2024

 iPhones use Apple’s proprietary power connector technology ‘Lightning’, discernable by its eight pins (pictured). In EU countries – and Northern Ireland – this will have to be replaced by USB-C by 2024

‘Initially, they had slightly different phones for different markets, but as soon as they could have universal 5G phone chargers, they did.’

‘It’ll be cheaper to do USB-C everywhere,’ Dr Cowling said, which could affect the resale value of iPhones, he warned.

The EU decision  will certainly be cheered by the millions of people who have searched through a drawer full of cables for the right charger. Pictured: five common charging cable designs (from left-right): USB-A, USB-C, USB Mini B, USB Micro B and Apple's Lightning cable

The EU decision  will certainly be cheered by the millions of people who have searched through a drawer full of cables for the right charger. Pictured: five common charging cable designs (from left-right): USB-A, USB-C, USB Mini B, USB Micro B and Apple’s Lightning cable

According to the EU’s announcement: ‘This law is a part of a broader EU effort to make products in the EU more sustainable, to reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.’

The EU’s rule covers not just mobile phones, but tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld video game consoles and portable speakers.

Laptops also are covered, but manufacturers will have extra time to comply.

Apple fans in affected countries will of course be able to still use their old Lightning chargers and devices that have Lightning ports.

But new devices sold in the affected countries from 2024 will have to be USB-C. 

Ultimately, it should make life easier for consumers fed up with rummaging through a tangle of cables for the right one.

The EU introduced the rule because it wants a uniform charging cord for smartphones and other devices to reduce electronic waste, but Apple argues this would limit innovation and hurt consumers. 

The union estimates that discarded or unused chargers account for 11,000 metric tons of e-waste in Europe every year. 

‘Consumers will be provided with clear information on the charging characteristics of new devices, making it easier for them to see whether their existing chargers are compatible,’ the EU said in its statement on Tuesday. 

European officials on Tuesday agreed the text of a proposed EU law imposing a standard charger for smartphones, tablets, laptops and more by 2024. Pictured is an Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max with Lighting charging cable (top) and USB-C cable (bottom)

European officials on Tuesday agreed the text of a proposed EU law imposing a standard charger for smartphones, tablets, laptops and more by 2024. Pictured is an Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max with Lighting charging cable (top) and USB-C cable (bottom)

‘Buyers will also be able to choose whether they want to purchase new electronic equipment with or without a charging device.’ 

The new USB-C rule, which will take effect by autumn 2024, was originally announced last September, but came more than a decade after the European Parliament first pushed for it. 

The decision will be formally ratified by European Parliament and among EU member states after the summer before entering into effect. 

What is USB-C? 

USB-C is an industry-standard connector for transmitting both data and power on a single cable. 

It was developed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the group of companies that has developed, certified and shepherded the USB standard over the years. 

USB-IF members include Apple, Dell, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Samsung.

At first glance, the USB-C connector looks like the micro USB connector, used in old Android smartphones. 

However, it is more oval in shape and slightly thicker. 

One of the best features of the USB-C is its ‘flippability’, which means it doesn’t have a ‘correct’ orientation, and can be used either way. 

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The EU has also outlined standards for giving consumers the right to choose whether to buy new devices with or without a charger, which it estimates will save consumers 250 million euros (£212 million) a year.

‘Consumers will be provided with clear information on the charging characteristics of new devices, making it easier for them to see whether their existing chargers are compatible,’ the EU said in a statement.

‘Buyers will also be able to choose whether they want to purchase new electronic equipment with or without a charging device.’   

While many electronics makers have started using USB-C sockets on their devices, Apple has been one of the main holdouts. 

However, rumours have already indicated Apple may be planning to replace Lightning with USB-C, possibly in anticipation of the EU’s new rule. 

Last month, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted Apple will finally ditch the Lightning port for USB-C in its 2023 iPhone, rumoured to be called the iPhone 15. 

Since 2012, iPhones have come with the company’s own Lightning port and connecting cables, which replaced the previous 30-pin connector.

However, the newest iPhone models have been shipping with a lightning-to-USB-C adapter cable, which allows the iPhone to be connected to a USB-C socket if needed.

USB-C to Lightning Cable adapters are seen at a new Apple store in Chicago, Illinois. These come with iPhones but can also be bought separately

USB-C to Lightning Cable adapters are seen at a new Apple store in Chicago, Illinois. These come with iPhones but can also be bought separately 

The newest iPhone models have been shipping with a lightning-to-USB-C adapter cable (pictured) which allows the iPhone to be connected to a USB-C socket if needed

The newest iPhone models have been shipping with a lightning-to-USB-C adapter cable (pictured) which allows the iPhone to be connected to a USB-C socket if needed

Apple has been rapidly phasing out iPhone accessories that were previously included in the box with its iPhones.

iPhone 11, released in 2019, came with a pair of wired EarPods with Lightning connector, a USB to Lightning cable and a 5W USB power adaptor.

But its successors, iPhone 12, released in 2020, and iPhone 13, released last year,  only came with the USB to Lightning cable in addition to the phone itself.

Apple had said this decision was taken to cut down on the environmental impact of its hardware. 

Pictured here is Apple's breakdown of 'what's in the box' with the iPhone 11, released in 2019, and what was eliminated from the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 box (crossed out in red)

Pictured here is Apple’s breakdown of ‘what’s in the box’ with the iPhone 11, released in 2019, and what was eliminated from the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 box (crossed out in red)

New USB-C charger rule shows how EU regulators make decisions for the world 

By Renaud Foucart for The Conversation  

Have you ever borrowed a friend’s charger only to find it is not compatible with your phone? Or wondered what to do with the pile of cables you’ve accumulated from every device you’ve ever bought?

Such inconveniences will soon be history after the EU mandated on June 7 2022 that all small and medium-sized portable devices must be equipped with a USB-C charging port by the autumn of 2024. Laptops are due to come under the new rule roughly in autumn 2027. Unbundling will also be mandatory: chargers will no longer come with new phones, but will be purchased separately, if needed, when you buy a new phone. According to the EU’s announcement: ‘This law is a part of a broader EU effort to make products in the EU more sustainable, to reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.’

The European Commission first announced it was discussing the need for a common charger with the industry in 2009, so many manufacturers have already aligned their production with the new rule. As a result, more than 30 different models of charger have now been reduced to only three: the new standard USB-C, the mini-USB, and Apple’s Lightning charger.

A common charger should be less wasteful and cheaper, as well as making consumers’ lives easier – what could possibly be wrong with that? According to Apple, a lot. The tech company has criticised the plan to standardise, arguing the regulation may hinder future innovation. But the new rules mean it has been forced to add USB-C charging capabilities to its next generation of phones anyway. This shows the power of the EU to affect the development of markets and industries beyond its borders.

Consumers have benefited from improvements to charging technology over the years, but the concern is that a common charger requirement could stifle innovation by making it impossible to develop and roll out even better versions. Imagine if regulators had forced the installation of a CD player on laptops or even a headphone jack on mobile phones, for example. A study commissioned by Apple estimates the potential loss of value to consumers from blocking innovation in this area to be in the billions.

The Commission argues that the legislation is flexible enough to allow for innovation. It even explicitly seeks a common standard for wireless charging as soon as the technology is mature enough. This standard could be adopted by 2026, with the only constraint being that the future wireless standard is the same for all companies.

Finding a common standard is often in the interest of manufacturers. Along with helping to reduce costs, it offers the ability to compete on a level playing field. The prospect of a future common standard also encourages competition to provide the resulting product. This often results in manufacturers cooperating without government interventions, both at the national and international levels.

Indeed, USB is already a collaborative venture founded by major tech players such as Microsoft, HP and even Apple. The difference with Apple’s Lightning chargers, however, is precisely that the technology is not collaborative and it’s proprietary. Anyone can add a USB port to an electronic device, but only Apple products can use its lightning ports.

Economists call this a “pesky little brother” situation. Apple is by far the largest technology company in the world. While everyone would like their product to be compatible with Apple, it wants exclusivity. Thus, the main risk of the new regulation may not be to hinder innovation in general, but to block new exclusive Apple designs.

As such, the EU has chosen the collective gain of a common standard versus the benefit some consumers may derive from the exclusivity of Apple products. Other regulators might care more about not hurting Apple’s profits, but the EU seems to believe that this point is irrelevant to the welfare of European citizens.

On the other hand, the EU’s decision to standardise chargers is likely to have global implications. Once tech manufacturers switch to offer the common charger for European customers, it could be costly to produce a different technology for other parts of the world.

Once a product is compliant with EU regulation, firms often choose not to make a different version for the rest of the world. EU rules on health and safety, recycling, or chemical products often force global manufacturers to change their practices everywhere, for example. And when a smaller player such as the UK insists on having its own certification, it merely becomes a costly bureaucratic exercise of replication.

Take GDPR as an example. Since 2016, global websites have modified user experience to abide by the European data protection law. Companies such as Facebook and Google have adapted their business models to suit the new standards stemming from the EU Digital Market Act, drastically reducing the ways they can make money from consumer data. Companies are not obliged to apply EU law globally, they often simply find it easier to do so.

Known as the ‘Brussels effect’, this means lawmakers representing Europe’s 400 million people often end up deciding the standards for the rest of the world. Standardisation and regulation decisions are typically taken after an analysis of the cost and benefits of different options. In the case of GDPR, some studies estimate the innovation cost of privacy to be significant.

While US lawmakers think this cost is higher than the benefits, their preference has become largely irrelevant. The biggest technological companies are based in the US but their regulation has been delegated to the EU in practice, simply because its regulators acted first.

In the case of the common charger, the direct risk to innovation is probably minimal and consumers should be fairly happy with the new rules. The underlying issue is actually democratic: standards are often set by the regulators that act first. Others must then watch markets develop from the sidelines.

 

 

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