While it entered the market in 2012 with the iPhone 5, the Lightning socket could well and truly disappear. We have already discussed this European Commission bill on the establishment of a universal charger. This concerns all manufacturers, but the consequences will probably be greater for the Apple brand. However, nothing has yet been confirmed, but if this is confirmed, Apple could well abandon its proprietary socket in favor of the USB-C socket used by the main manufacturers.
Apple Lightning: a plug used for more than ten years
I was talking about the iPhone, but Lightning sockets are delivered with many Apple products, from the iPhone to the iPad, including the iPods and the AirPods. This is an 8-pin reversible plug produced by the Apple brand for 10 years. It took over from the 30 pin connector which arrived at the same time as the 3rd generation iPod. None of this makes us any younger. When it was released, this Lightning plug probably surprised many people. Indeed, other devices, whether smartphones or tablets had taken the fold by being compatible with the standard of the time, the micro-USB cable.
On Apple products, it was always possible to go through an adapter, but that required going through an additional accessory. In addition, using an adapter did not allow the exchange of data. This was just enough to charge the device. From the beginning, I’ve only been talking about the Lightning socket because it’s the one that’s doomed to disappear, but it’s not the only socket used by Apple products. Indeed, iPads (Pro / Air / Mini) and MacBooks (Air / Pro) already have USB-C ports.
A 2021 bill to reduce e-waste
USB-C becomes the new standard
A bill from the European Parliament forces manufacturers to sell their rechargeable devices with a USB-C socket. Beyond reducing electronic waste, the interest is to prevent the consumer from having to buy a new cable and a new charger for each electronic device purchased. USB-C would therefore officially become the new standard for charging various mobile devices. The draft legislative resolution states:
…a universal charger should be developed for certain categories or classes of radio equipment, in particular for the benefit of consumers. This is also in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal and should therefore be implemented
It must be understood that the bill is not just about proposing a universal charger. Indeed, the will is to define the communication protocols and the charging interface of certain devices. And when we talk about the charging interface, it is indeed the female connector. We are talking about the port on the smartphone and not just a power supply and a cable.
If this new law is validated, Apple could thus bury its connector once and for all to join the other manufacturers and thus provide a USB-C cable with its devices. Like all the others, Apple will then have to force it by 2024. This gives manufacturers time to adapt their products. I’m talking about Apple but this concerns many other brands, those that manufacture products equipped with micro-USB or proprietary ports (speakers, cameras, tablets or even cameras). According to the bill, only activity trackers, smartwatches and some sports equipment are exempt. It is their small size that allows them to pass through this new regulation.
I speak in the conditional because there are still a few steps before this law applies within the different EU countries. Now that the committee has adopted its position on this directive, the Parliament must now start negotiations with the various EU governments. The objective is to arrive at “the final form of the legislation”.
Like a sense of deja vu
This is not the first time that the European Commission has adopted a directive to impose universal chargers for smartphones, tablets and other types of devices. The goal was already to harmonize what existed on the market. In 2009, it signed an agreement with several manufacturers to promote the micro-USB socket. Many people have adopted this new standard, but always with their own power adapter.
You now understand why I was talking about the Apple adapter. The Apple brand had managed to “bypass” this directive to keep its plug compatible only with its devices while offering a small micro-USB compatible accessory. The Commission admits that there has been progress but the objective has not yet been achieved. This explains why a new bill is being voted on.
These initiatives have already had some success in reducing the number of charging solutions from thirty to just a few main options. However, the most recent voluntary initiatives do not fully meet the objectives of harmonizing EU action to reduce e-waste…
This proposal sees beyond 2024 since it specifies that the state of the market will have to be assessed every 5 years in order to harmonize charging solutions for other types of devices such as robot vacuum cleaners, hair dryers or even electric vehicles.
A clearer display
One of the other chapters of this law concerns the display of information on the box. Manufacturers must include clear information on the type of connectors and the presence (or not) of a charger.
A specific pictogram, prominently placed on the product, should enable consumers to determine before purchase whether the radio equipment is sold with a charging device.
If we take the example of smartphones, some brands like Apple or Samsung no longer provide a mains charger. This is a good move from an e-waste reduction standpoint and helps reduce the bill at checkout a bit. On the other hand, other manufacturers continue to integrate it into their box. I think it’s a good idea to provide information about the contents of the box. Now, I’m not sure that changes anything about sales or buyers’ decisions.
An iPhone 15 with USB-C?
The next iPhone (14?) which will most likely be officially presented in September 2022 should normally retain a Lightning socket. The latter being surely about to be assembled, it would have been impossible to change the connector at the last moment. Unless Apple anticipated this decision from the European body or decided to market its iPhone later in the year, I don’t see how it could be otherwise.
On the other hand, the following smartphone (iPhone 15), if all this is confirmed, should carry a USB-C socket. At least, this will be the case in the event that Apple decides to do like the others. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple surprises us again. She will find a “trick” to distinguish herself from the others.
The next deadline: the harmonization of wireless charging
The European Commission has no plans to stop at wired charging. She took the opportunity to give a “deadline” for wireless charging. By December 31, 2025, the European body must have presented a strategy aimed at proposing minimum interoperability. Even laptops are integrated into this proposal. If it considers that no initiative is necessary, it will have to carry out a new evaluation every two years.
Apple could then take the plunge by skipping the USB-C socket to switch only to wireless charging. The Lightning socket would then be abandoned not in favor of USB-C but of wireless charging. This is obviously only a line of thought and it may be a bit short to imagine an iPhone without a cable…