Apple says EU’s potential charging cable mandate ‘stifles innovation’

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iPhone Lightning connector
New regulations could force Apple to ditch Lightning cables in Europe.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple today argued against the European Union’s demands for standardized charging cables for smartphones and other devices.

New regulations being considered by the EU could force Apple to ditch the iPhone’s familiar Lightning connector for an industry-wide alternative. Apple said the move “stifles innovation” and hurt smartphone buyers.

“Apple stands for innovation and deeply cares about the customer experience,” Apple said in a statement to Cult of Mac. “We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole.”

EU wants one cable standard

Apple’s statement comes in response to potential EU legislation, aimed at reducing electronic waste, that would force manufacturers to adopt a single cable standard. EU lawmakers argue that consumers shouldn’t have to carry different cables for different devices.

“The amount of cables and chargers produced and thrown away each year is simply unacceptable,” said Roza Thun und Hohenstein, vice chair of the European Parliament’s internal market committee, in a parliamentary debate this month.

The European Commission plans to release the results of a study investigating the impacts of a common charging standard by the end of January.

Killing Lightning would be hard blow for Apple

Apple likely would feel the impact of the change more than other vendors. Rivals like Samsung and Google already use USB-C, which is slowly making its way to almost all electronics. Only Apple’s devices, most notably iPhone, use the proprietary Lightning connector.

An EU mandate to use a common standard could force Apple to remove Lightning from future devices, at least for models released in the European Union. Such a move also would cut into profits made by Cupertino through official Lightning accessories, and the certification of third-party products.

Apple argues that changing the standard now would disrupt hundreds of millions of users in Europe who already own Lightning devices. Such a move also could produce the unintended result of filling landfills with Lightning accessories as users switch to something else.

“More than 1 billion Apple devices have shipped using a Lightning connector in addition to an entire ecosystem of accessory and device manufacturers who use Lightning to serve our collective customers,” Apple said. “Legislation would have a direct negative impact by disrupting the hundreds of millions of active devices and accessories used by our European customers and even more Apple customers worldwide, creating an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconveniencing users.”

Some iPhone fans might agree with Apple’s stance. Others, who are already calling for an iPhone with USB-C, might prefer a future in which one cable works with all their gadgets.

EU cable regulation … déjà vu?

The EU attempted to crack down on different cable standards for electronic devices in the past. It encouraged manufacturers to voluntarily adopt Micro USB connectors in 2009, which prompted Apple to launch its own Lightning-to-Micro USB adapters.

Had the EU forced Micro USB on manufacturers back then, it would have severely restricted the advances that led to today’s better connectivity technologies, Apple said. Cupertino also pointed out that the industry is already standardizing on its own as more companies shift toward USB-C. But there’s no sign of it coming to iPhone any time soon — despite it now being available on the newest iPad Pro lineup.

“We do not believe there is a case for regulation given the industry is already moving to the use of USB Type-C through a connector or cable assembly,” Apple said. “This includes Apple’s USB-C power adapter which is compatible with all iPhone and iPad devices. This approach is more affordable and convenient for consumers, enables charging for a wide range of portable electronic products, encourages people to re-use their charger and allows for innovation.”

Ultimately, Apple called on EU regulators to avoid enacting legislation that leaves consumers stuck in the past.

“We hope the [European] Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry’s ability to innovate,” Apple said.

Recent rumors suggest Apple could be planning for a future in which we don’t need cables at all. The company is said to be developing at least one iPhone model for 2021 that will use only wireless charging and data transfer methods.