One for all: USB-C connector
Photo: Matthias Kremp / DER SPIEGEL
After more than a decade of wrestling, the EU Commission now wants to enforce a uniform standard that specifies which cables and which chargers should be used to charge mobile gadgets. The new regulation should apply equally to smartphones as well as tablets, handheld game consoles, digital cameras, headphones and portable speakers. It stipulates that in future users will only need one charger for their mobile devices. The connection between the power supply unit and the device should be established via a USB-C cable.
The proposal presented today is the culmination of a process that has dragged on since 2009.
Startled by the threat of an EU regulation, 14 manufacturers agreed on a common standard in the form of micro-USB.
Its introduction, however, was delayed again and again.
In 2014, a uniform standard was finally decided that was to be introduced in 2017.
After all: Of the around 30 different types of chargers and cables with which cell phones had to be charged in 2009, only three relevant variants are left today: USB-C, micro-USB and the Lightning connector used by Apple.
One plug has to be enough
But even that is still too much for the EU Commission. USB-C will become the standard port for the named product categories, according to a press release. This is likely to piss off Apple in particular. The US company uses USB-C in some iPad models. But in the new standard iPad, but especially in the iPhones, you can still find the Lightning socket that the company introduced in 2012 with the iPhone 5.
As recently as last year, the company argued that the use of micro-USB would have become mandatory had that hindered the development of Lightning and USB-C.
Apple is fighting for every millimeter here.
Not only because USB-C takes up slightly more space than a Lightning connector.
But also because Apple Lightning cables can be equipped with their own technology.
Initially, a kind of copy protection chip in the connector prevented third-party suppliers from building cheap cables.
Just one charger left
In addition to standardizing the connection cables on USB-C, the EU Commission also wants to standardize the fast charging technologies offered by some manufacturers.
This is to ensure that the highest charging speed can not only be achieved with a charger from the same manufacturer.
The basis for this is the so-called “power delivery” technology, in which the charger and the device to be charged exchange data with each other in order to charge the batteries as quickly as possible.
In contrast to the manufacturer's own fast charging technologies, as used by some cell phone manufacturers, Power Delivery is an open standard and powerful enough to also supply notebooks with energy.
The boxes should be slimmer
According to the new rules, manufacturers should no longer include chargers with their mobile devices. This measure is intended to reduce the number of "unwanted chargers" that are not used. Apple anticipated this step, and Samsung followed it later.
If the EU's plan works, that would also make sense.
Then a charger would actually be sufficient, at least in theory.
Users who do not want to charge their devices one after the other, but at the same time, would have to purchase additional chargers or multiple chargers.
The choice of such devices should in turn be simplified.
Device manufacturers are to be obliged to print information on the energy requirements of their products on the packaging.
This should make it easy to see whether a charger that has already been purchased or is to be purchased meets, among other things, the fast-charging requirements of the respective device.
Announcement with transition period
The declared goal of the EU Commission is to reduce electronic waste.
According to calculations by the Commission, 11,000 tons of unused chargers end up in the garbage in the EU.
In addition, it should be made easier for users to charge their devices if they do not have their own charger with them.
Should the template be implemented, one would no longer have to ask in future: "Does anyone have an iPhone charger?" Or "Does someone have an Android charging cable?"
It will be some time before that happens.
After the proposal has been submitted, it still has to be adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council.
Manufacturers would then be given a transition period of two years to adapt their products to the standards.