- In the smartphone industry, Apple is the only OEM that doesn’t use universal charging technology.
- This violation of the status quo could finally change if the EU steps in and forces Apple’s hand.
- The EU is compiling data now to see if it should issue regulations on how Apple can design its devices.
There could be an imminent curtain call for Apple’s Lightning connector if European regulators get their way, via Reuters. The same group of regulators who just issued a $5 billion antitrust fine on Google might force Apple to homogenize with the rest of the smartphone industry.
At this point, almost every Android phone either has a Micro USB port or a USB Type-C port, with almost all the new devices sporting the latter. But that wasn’t always the case.
In the early years of the smartphone industry, there were multiple proprietary ports requiring different types of chargers depending on the make and model of your device. This was not only an inconvenience for consumers but also a huge waste of materials that inevitably filled up landfills needlessly.
In response to this trend, in 2009 the European Union pushed a “memorandum of understanding” (MoU) on the major players in the smartphone industry. Signing the MoU expressed a voluntary intent to harmonize chargers for new models of smartphones starting in 2011.
Yet here we are in 2018 and Android devices are essentially universal in charging technology, while Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector is the lone outlier.
The Lightning connector is a burden on consumers and the environment, and has no technological features that USB Type-C doesn't also have.
Margrethe Vestager – the EU competition chief who is largely responsible for the recent Google antitrust fines – said that she is not pleased with the status quo when it comes to Apple and its unwillingness to comply with the voluntary MoU it signed.
“Given the unsatisfactory progress with this voluntary approach, the Commission will shortly launch an impact assessment study to evaluate costs and benefits of different other options,” Vestager said in an Aug. 1 response to a query from an EU lawmaker.
The impact assessment study will help regulators decide if it is necessary to take more stringent actions to make all chargers across all brands universal.
Over the years, there have been multiple rumors that Apple will abandon its proprietary ports for a universal port, but none have ever proven true. With the next series of iPhones due to launch in a few weeks, it’s unlikely that the Lightning cable will start to phase out this year.