Last month, the European Commission unveiled its plan to harmonise charging ports for electronic devices. With the new legislation, USB-C will be the required standard port for all smartphones, cameras, tablets, headphones, portable speakers, and video consoles. When the EU first proposed a common charger in 2009, they believed it would be the micro-USB standard.
The EU claims that this approach is needed to solve ‘consumer inconvenience’ and tackle the e-waste problem, but that logic falls short of making sense. This regulation will have a negative impact on innovation, do nothing to help the environment, and consumers will end up being the ones who have to foot the bill. The best thing the EU can do to help consumers and not impede innovation is to stay technology neutral.
Even though USB-C seems like the most efficient charger at the moment, we can’t predict how this technology will develop in the future. For example, in 2009, when the European Union first proposed a common charger, micro-USB was considered the standard Had this common charger been passed then, would European consumers have lost out on the now more-popular USB-C devices that are the new standard? Time has shown us that there are always better and more efficient technologies waiting in the wings. By legislating one common charger, the EU will be responsible for delaying innovation that will deprive consumers of choice not only now, but in the future. Adopting this proposal by the European Parliament and the Council could take many more months, by which time many companies may even find better solutions than what is currently proposed.
With fast-developing technology, there’s no guarantee that USB-C will still be considered the most efficient charging technology even months from now. Plus, as more and more companies are experimenting with wireless chargers it is very likely that charging cables will become obsolete. If this proposal is accepted, companies will be forced to provide the plug anyway.
When Apple decided to drop the headphone port for iPhones in 2016, many were skeptical about the move. But consumers eventually came to appreciate wireless technology and not having to deal with wires that always mystically entangle the moment you put it in the pocket. Had the EU or any other government body tried to intervene and fix the “inconvenience”, we probably wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the benefits of them.
More disturbingly, this decision specifically targets Apple, the only company that uses a unique lightning cable for its products. Considering how many iPhone users exist in Europe, this proposal would have an immediate impact, forcing users to trash their existing wires and have to purchase new ones. It is hard not to be skeptical about this move. Innovators will keep innovating and we have new and improved versions of the products that pop up in the market almost daily. What we need is more competition, which is the main driving force behind innovation. Common charger mandates will do nothing but infringe on this entrepreneurial spirit, and mandate technology that will likely soon be obsolete.
With this proposal, the EU is choosing favourites and endorsing a specific technology, when in reality it should be practicing technology neutrality. Rather than force companies to adopt a commission-favoured solution, the EU should simply issue general recommendations, leaving it up to the companies and consumers to make the ultimate choice of which charging wire they want to use.