December 28, 2024: That’s when EU rules require iPhones to have to ditch Apple’s Lightning cable and start using a common charging port, in line with all other smartphones.
The new EU law goes into effect on Tuesday; requires smartphones and other small electronic devices to use a USB-C charging port within two years, in an effort to reduce e-waste and make life easier for consumers.
Here’s an overview of what was decided, what the timeline is, and how it will all play out.
1. What is actually decided?
The Radio Equipment Directive is often referred to as “common loader fileand requires that 13 classes of electronic devices be “equipped with the USB Type-C charging port” and that they can be charged with cables that comply with USB-C standards.
That will make USB-C the standard for smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, headsets, portable game consoles, portable speakers, e-readers, keyboards, mice, portable navigation systems, headsets, and laptops.
2. What is the timeline?
EU countries have until December 28, 2023 to transpose the directive into national rulebooks, something that is often a problem for capital laggards.
The first major deadline comes a year later, by which time all devices except laptops will have to comply with the rules; laptops get until April 28, 2026.
The Commission can add other categories of devices to the list by means of delegated acts from 2025 and every five years thereafter.
3. Where does this leave Apple?
Apple strongly resisted the new rules, arguing in a Study commissioned by Apple that the environmental gains would only reach €13 million, but would stifle innovation in charging technology worth €1.5 billion. In its feedback on the proposal, Apple urged lawmakers to avoid this by “reconsidering the proposal entirely or modifying it.”
This argument did not get much traction and the EU institutions reached a common charger agreement in June.
Despite his complaints, Apple’s chief marketing executive, Greg Joswiak saying a Wall Street Journal conference in October that he will comply with. The fall release of the iPhone 15 is the first opportunity to switch to USB-C.
4. Aren’t we all going wireless?
The EU mandate to move to USB-C could well be a short-lived victory. The smartphone industry has been moving towards wireless charging technology, where a magnetic field transfers power from a charging station or pad to the device, bypassing the need for a charging port.
The EU rules don’t address wireless charging, for now. Lawmakers added a requirement that the Commission submit a report on the technology by December 28, 2026, but the industry is not waiting. Apple and other major smartphone makers have already adopted a standard, open source Qi technology, pushed by an industry group, the Wireless Power Consortium.
5. Will this help reduce e-waste?
In addition to wasting time searching for chargers, adopting a common charger has been sold as part of the battle against e-waste. According to the Commission’s initial estimates, shippers bill per 11,000 tons of e-waste per year, or 0.3 percent of the total. The final figures could be higher, since these estimates do not include laptops, which lawmakers later added to the list.
But Finland-based Swapie, which sells refurbished iPhones, has recently been calling the rules “a bittersweet scenario.” He fears the directive will make it impossible to sell phones outside the EU without USB-C charging ports, cutting off a supply of refurbished phones.
“The refurbishing industry lives off the sourcing of second-hand devices, which means that all regulations in the general smartphone industry end up having a direct impact on our access to supply,” the company said in a statement.