There’s good news (I guess) for tech purchasing departments and frequent travelers: Apple now says it will eventually standardize around USB-C charging cables — because it has no choice. This follows a European Union (EU) decision to create a mandatory charging standard for small electronic devices.

‘We have no choice’ says Apple VP

Speaking at the WSJ Tech Live Conference, Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, explained Apple’s position. His revelation followed a recent EU decision to require all manufacturers to use USB-C for charging small electronic devices  such as iPhones by the end of 2024.

“We have no choice — as we do around the world, (we) will comply with local laws,” he said.

It’s not necessarily going to be soon, however, and Joswiak refused to be drawn on any kind of time frame. He did acknowledge the EU’s 2024 time frame.

In truth, Apple already seems to have begun moving toward adoption of USB-C. iPads, Macs — even the most recently introduced AirPods Pro 2 — all make use of the interconnect. Despite the public failure of its AirPower attempt, Apple is also visibly exploring how to make wireless charging an effective remedy for power.

Why Apple thought differently

While Joswiak conceded that the EU means well with its mandate, he explained that Apple continues to view the decision, no matter how well intentioned, as a threat to future innovation.

Apple’s perspective seems to be that cables that can be detached from the power brick mostly solve the standardization challenge as users can connect any kind of cable to it. That almost makes sense in situations in which the bricks carry support for multiple interconnects, but the truth is most don’t offer this.

Disposed of and unused chargers account for around 11 000 tons of e-waste annually, according to the EU. Joswiak also pointed out that while trying to reduce ewaste with the move to USB-C, the EU may have ended up increasing it.

He observed that more than a billion iPhone chargers with Lightning connections have so far been sold, and all those cables will now presumably be taking that journey to ewaste stacks. Apple made the same argument in 2021 when it told Reuters the move would both increase waste and may also stifle innovation. “Over a billion people have Lightning already,” Joswiak said.

Why Europe thought differently

This may be true. But when it made the decision, the EU pointed out that in 2019, more than 50% of chargers sold with mobile phones in 2018 had USB-B connectors, 29% USB-C and 21% a Lightning connector.

To justify his decision around innovation and government mandates, Joswiak discussed rules concerning hearing aid compatibility in smartphones. “For years, mobile phones had to satisfy a hearing aid compatibility spec which was rigorously described by regulations that had to be met,” he said. “The problem was this didn’t work. So, we came up with a new approach which has now become an industry standard that worked. We responded to the government need.”

Apple could well argue that another and perhaps more meaningful way in which it is attempting to take tangible steps to protect the environment is its recently announced decision to support the deployment of large-scale solar and wind projects across Europe.

The company is involved in enabling projects ranging between 30 and 300 megawatts per facility. This reflects a company-wide effort to become carbon neutral across its entire global supply chain and also across the life cycle of every single product, presumably including charging devices.

One more thing

“Wall Street Journal” interviewer Joanna Stern asked whether innovation has stopped in smartphones. “Some people say phones have become boring,” she said. “Wow,” said Joswiak. “I think that’s other people’s phones. And I agree with that — ours are pretty exciting.” Apple’s seemingly growing marketshare during an overall industry decline perhaps bears his last claim out.

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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