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EU rules to make USB-C charging default for all mobile devices

​​Apple claims one type of connector will stifle innovation across the industry

USB-C and Lightning charger cables

The European Commission has set out proposals to create a single standardised charging port for all smartphones, tablets, and headphones sold within the European Union.

An 18-page directive released on Thursday estimates that a universal charging system could save EU consumers £214 million a year by reducing e-waste and encouraging consumers to re-use existing chargers when buying a new device.

If adopted, the rules would also force manufacturers to switch to USB-C ports for all their mobile products.

On average, European consumers have around three mobile phone chargers, with just two used on a regular basis, according to the commission. In addition, disposed and unused chargers are said to account for around 11,000 tonnes of e-waste each year.

"European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers," said the European Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager. "We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger. This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions."

USB-C chargers have been widely adopted by mobile phone manufacturers like Samsung, OnePlus, and Huawei and have been used on most Android-based smartphones since 2016.

A notable exception to this is Apple, which has maintained a policy of using its own charging technology for its mobile devices since 2012, in the form of 'Lightning', the cables for which are incompatible with devices from other manufacturers.

​​"We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world," Apple said in a statement.

Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, told IT Pro that “having one common charging standard would be a victory for common sense in the eyes of consumers", although Apple has made a strong argument for keeping its Lightning connector, especially given the one billion active iPhone users around the world.

However, Wood also pointed to existing Apple products that already support USB-C, such as MacBooks and iPads, arguing that the company might be heading for a full USB-C future anyway.

Reducing the amount of 'unnecessary' cables consumers have was the main reason that last year's iPhone 12 models were sold without chargers in the box, which was also the case for Samsung's flagship Galaxy phones.

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This, however, is not enough for the commission, which suggests a "harmonised" charging port will prevent unjustifiable limits on charging speeds and also save consumers €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases.

Moving forward, the commission will look to revise the Radio Equipment Directive, which will need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. It will then allow a "transition period" of around 24 months from the date of adoption to give industry "ample time to adapt" before the new legislation comes into force.

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