They’ve been chewed by dogs, misplaced, stolen, repaired, tripped over, tangled, untangled, and sworn at.
Now the familiar iPhone charger may be about to be unplugged for good.
- The EU is mandating a single type of charger for smartphones and similar electronic devices
- This will probably force Apple to change the design of iPhones sold all over the world
- That’s bad news if you’ve just bought corded earphones for your iPhone
Last week, the European Commission came to a provisional agreement requiring smartphones and other similar devices sold within EU borders to use the same USB-C charging port.
Though the rules don’t single out the iPhone, Apple is most affected by the change, and has lobbied hard against a mandate that would effectively ban its proprietary Lightning connector, which has been standard on new iPhones since 2012.
Here’s what the proposed EU rule changes mean for Australians.
What is the EU proposing?
Hardware makers and tech companies will have until late 2024 to make sure specified products sold in the EU have USB-C ports.
These products include smartphones, tablets, headphones, cameras, e-readers, handheld game consoles, keyboards, and computer mice.
Laptop makers have slightly longer: 40 months from the time European lawmakers approve the agreement, which should be soon.
Why is the EU doing this?
According to the European Commission, a universal charger for smartphones and other devices will save people money, drive innovation in wireless charging, and reduce electronic waste, or e-waste.
It says European consumers spend about 2.4 billion euros ($3.58 billion) annually on standalone chargers they bought separately, and the deal would mean they save around 240 million euros ($358 million).
What does Apple say?
Almost the exact opposite.
According to Apple, the mandate will increase e-waste and slow innovation.
“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 last year.
In response, the commission said smartphone makers would be given a 24-month transition period and “ample time” to fall in line.
What does this mean for Australians?
Apple could make USB-C standard on all new iPhones or only those sold in the EU.
The first option was the most likely, said Michael Cowling, an IT expert at Central Queensland University.
The situation is comparable to 5G a couple years ago, when various countries had different standards, Dr Cowling said.
“Initially, they had slightly different phones for different markets, but as soon as they could have universal 5G phone chargers, they did.”
For Apple, a global standard means more streamlined supply chains.
So the rule change in Europe means the iPhones sold in Australia will probably have USB-C as well.
“It’ll be cheaper to do USB-C everywhere,” Dr Cowling said.
This could affect the resale value of iPhones, he added.
“And probably upset people as well.”
What is USB-C?
It’s quickly becoming the standard charger for electronic devices.
Nearly all Android smartphones now use USB-C charging, as do Apple’s MacBooks and iPads, and many other new laptops.
IT professional Peter Saville said USB-C ports were less likely to get “gummed up” than Lightning ones.
“A lot of iPhone repairers would tell you that gummed-up ports is the biggest failure rate other than cracked screens,” he said.
“USB-C can get cleaned out pretty easily.”
What about my Lightning accessories?
If you want your Lightning connector earphones, or another iPhone corded accessory, to work with USB-C once you upgrade your phone, you’ll need to shell out another $20 for an adapter.
The same thing happened in 2012, when Apple introduced Lightning on its new iPhones, replacing the more chunky Dock connector.
“Everyone that had accessories for a Dock connector had to change to Lightning,” Dr Cowling said.
That’s particularly bad news for third-party iPhone accessories manufacturers.
“Unfortunately, the manufacturers of those accessories are going to have to sell their old accessories for a discount.”
What can I do with my old cables?
Once it’s time to give the Lightning cable the old heave-ho, send it to Mobile Muster or drop it off at one of the non-profit’s recycling bins located at electronics stores and mobile phone repairers.
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“There’s lots of valuable material in there to be used,” said Warren Overton, chief executive officer of the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP).
“We save over a ton of carbon dioxide per ton of e-waste we recycle.”
He said a common charger should “in theory” reduce e-waste.
“Surely having one universal charger is going to make it easier for everybody.”
Dr Cowling predicts Apple may soon ditch charging ports altogether.
“It’ll tell us all to go for wireless charging,” he said.
That would mean even more cables to recycle.