With Apple’s iPhone 15, the EU wins the charger war – POLITICO
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BRUSSELS — Made by Apple. Designed – at least in part – by Eurocrats.
The Cupertino, California-based tech giant is expected to introduce its new iPhone 15 – including more expensive variants – during a highly anticipated product launch on Tuesday evening. According to leaks ahead of the reveal, the iPhones are expected to use Apple’s first new charging technology in over a decade: They will feature a USB-C charging port, instead of Apple’s proprietary Lightning solution.
It’s an adaptation that Apple has come under pressure to make after European Union rules will require smartphones and other electronic devices to have a USB-C port by the end of 2024 at the latest. Apple has vehemently opposed the rule change in the past, saying it would stifle innovation.
The port change ends more than a decade of standoff between the EU and Apple over the company’s most lucrative — and ubiquitous — product. This proves that the EU can force even the world’s most valuable technology company to fall into line, just as it attacks other aspects of the iPhone – like the locked operating system – by through its digital competition rules.
On the road to change
The road to the iPhone’s USB-C port was long, some Brussels residents admit.
Alex Agius Saliba, a Maltese social democrat who led work on the common charger file, recalls that Apple executives “almost laughed at us” when lawmakers raised the issue during a visit to the iPhone maker about three years ago.
“They completely ignored us when it came to the common charger, without even responding to us,” he told POLITICO in an interview before the iPhone launch.
An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on speculation ahead of the launch.
The bloc’s efforts to tackle citizens’ drawers full of bizarre chargers and cables first tried a familiar approach: Since 2009, it has tried to lure Apple and other smartphone makers to a charging solution harmonized by encouraging voluntary industry agreements.
Although such agreements reduce the fragmentation of billing methods, they still allow the use of proprietary technologies. Apple has become the main holdout with its Lightning technology.
In September 2021, the European Commission presented its proposal for binding rules, mandating a USB-C port for smartphones, tablets and a range of other devices, citing consumer convenience and the need to reduce electronic waste. A common charger is “common sense”, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a blog post on Saturday, emphasizing the need for such rules.
A greater market effect
When evaluating the proposal, EU lawmakers – who had already called for such binding rules in 2020 – expanded the scope to include even more devices, such as laptops.
The EU’s common rules on chargers have the potential to set a global standard, Saliba argued, as do EU data protection rules put in place in 2018. “It’s a big victory, not only for European consumers, but I think the message is also resonant in other continents.
Due to the complexity of technology supply chains, it is not attractive for a smartphone brand to make different phones for different markets. And the sheer size of the bloc’s potential consumer base means its regulations have consequences in other markets.
But new pricing solutions mean the influence of the EU rule change could potentially be mitigated. The bloc’s rules only concern wired charging, while all manufacturers, including Apple, have since rolled out wireless charging options.
In response, European lawmakers urged the Commission to propose a standard for wireless charging by the end of next year.
Another concern is the impact on the refurbished device market. Only second-hand devices placed on the EU market before the rules came into force can still be resold, said Augustin Becquet, president of Eurefas, which represents companies in the renovation sector.
“In order to have a healthy source of supply and strengthen the capabilities of our sector, we must consider sourcing outside the EU borders,” Becquet said in a statement shared with POLITICO, referring to the second-hand devices from non-European markets. be authorized in the EU for resale from the end of next year.
The debate over refurbished devices suggests that the charging debate will continue, even after Apple’s announcement. But for now, considerable influence is embodied in a rather tiny hole.
“Now we see something tangible,” Saliba concluded.