why Apple was forced to change

The iPhone 15s unveiled by Apple are the brand’s first smartphones to feature a USB-C port. They say goodbye to the Lightning. A change that we owe more to the European Union than to the apple brand.

That’s it ! The iPhone 15s have been revealed, the iPhone 15 Pros have been revealed. During Apple’s famous back-to-school keynote. There is a lot to say about these phones, but one of the big news that we remember is undeniably the integration of a USB-C port.

Certainly, during the keynote, the brand presented this change as a logical evolution of its products – without making a ton of it as we might have feared before the conference. However, this transition is not a choice that Apple made cheerfully. Apple was very attached to its proprietary Lightning port on iPhones and it was the European Union that forced its hand with a new law. Let us take a quick reminder of the events that brought USB-C to the iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max.

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As we will see, in this story, the European Union plays the role of the heroine… or the villainous antagonist depending on your point of view.

USB-C mandatory in Europe

Back in 2022. After a small legal drama that enlivens the summer, the European Commission announces the vote on a very important bill for the future of several electronic devices. Indeed, it has been official since the beginning of October of the same year: USB-C will become the only wired charging port authorized for several devices, including smartphones, within the European Union.

From the start, it is clear that the main target of the measure is Apple, the last major smartphone manufacturer to resist this connection already widely adopted by the competition.

On the other hand, Apple has until fall 2024 – and therefore until the iPhone 16 – to comply with the new European regulations. The tech giant will ultimately not drag out the file or the suspense by resigning itself to integrating USB-C from the iPhone 15, in 2023.

Contacted by CssTricks in 2022, the office of Alex Agius Saliba, the European rapporteur in charge of the file, recalls that “ The idea of ​​a common charger for mobile phones and similar electronic devices is not new. » A first protocol had already seen the light of day in 2009. At the time, the agreement made it possible to “reduce the number of charger types on the market from 30 to 3.”

Which devices are affected?

If we think especially of smartphones, they are far from being the only electronic devices affected by the new European directive. In fall 2024, the imposition of USB-C as the universal standard for wired charging will also apply to the following products:

A little over a year later, laptop PCs will also be affected by this European directive.

Why didn’t Apple want USB-C?

Apple has always had a rather particular position on USB-C. The Californian company participated in the development of this standard as a member of the USB Implementers Forum organization. Also, it was already using it as a charging port on some of its products such as MacBooks or iPads – even the iPad 10 did so. On the other hand, on its iPhone and AirPods, the firm resisted. And firmly.

In the past, it had already defended its Lightning port against the European Union. Apple claimed that forcing manufacturers to adopt USB-C represented a brake on innovation. The Cupertino giant believed that a company should have the freedom to use the port of its choice to be able to implement the technologies of its choice there. The imposition of a universal charging port “ will harm consumers in Europe and around the world», According to the multinational at the time.

iPhone 13 Lightning charging

This argument could be defended, but it was undermined by a reality: the Lightning was limited to USB 2.0, which is less efficient on transfers than USB-C, closely linked to more modern technologies such as USB 4. for example, and even USB 4 2.0.

In any case, it is for these reasons that, even if Apple was never explicitly mentioned in the European bill, the Apple firm was at the heart of the subject.

Why is the European Union imposing USB-C?

The establishment of a universal and mandatory standard for wired charging in Europe is officially justified by two things. On the one hand, it is about simplifying consumers’ lives by allowing them to use the same cable for several devices. On the other hand, this initiative must allow the reduction of waste linked to new technologies.

By having fewer cables to store at home, consumers will be less likely to buy them. Ultimatelywe would therefore observe a drop in production and environmental impact.

With this idea in mind, it was therefore quite logical to turn to USB-C. This connection is already widely used in the Tech market. It is therefore simpler to impose it as the universal standard.

In its back-to-school keynote in 2023, Apple cites precisely this advantage by taking it into account by indicating that we can use the same cable to recharge the iPhone 15 and the new AirPods Pro which also feature USB-C. An eco-responsible argument made to seduce Mother Nature personified by the excellent actress Octavia Spencer in a sketch interesting in its approach, but a little embarrassing as the sequence sweats thegreenswashing .

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Why did Apple give in to the EU?

Even after the vote on the new European law, some could imagine that the Cupertino company would stick to its position to the end by refusing to integrate a USB-C port on its iPhones. However, this would not have been without risk for Apple. Certainly, according to Alex Agius Saliba’s office, the text does not provide for financial sanctions. The means of pressure are simpler and more effective.

It is indeed necessary to know that “the new provisions are part of a review of the RED directive“. This means that from fall 2024, if a device covered by the directive still has a wired charging port other than USB-C, it will simply not be allowed to be sold in member countries of the directive. the European Union.

The RED directive (PDF file) mentioned by the rapporteur governs the sale of radio equipment. To be on point, the device must comply with a set of criteria. It then receives a “CE” marking proving that it has been deemed compliant by the competent authorities. Without a USB-C port for wired charging, a smartphone will not get the precious ticket to land on the European market.

Apple would not have had a free pass and its iPhone 15s, if they had remained attached to their Lightning port, would simply not have been able to be sold officially in Europe. A market where the brand is very popular and firmly anchored. A market that it obviously cannot and does not want to lose.

What about USB-D?

Let’s project ourselves a little. It is entirely possible that USB-C will one day become an obsolete standard, overtaken by technological developments. In these conditions, does the European Union plan to change the law?

Yes, reassures the cabinet of Alex Agius Saliba. “Any technological development should result in a timely adjustment of specific technical requirements/standards under the Radio Equipment Directive. This would ensure that the technology used is not outdated“.

Thus, Europe is not closing the door to a possible evolution towards a supposed USB-D. It remains to be seen whether the said adjustments mentioned can be applied with good responsiveness.

Towards a 100% wireless iPhone?

The iPhone 15s are therefore equipped with USB-C. On the other hand, and for a while now, some rumors have suggested a potential 100% wireless iPhone in the relatively near future.

By releasing such a product, Apple would not be violating the new European law. This requires USB-C only for devices offering wired charging. A device using exclusively a wireless solution will not be affected and could therefore be released as is. At least for the moment.

From 2024, it is planned that the European Commission (which enforces the law within the EU) will be responsible for “ask European standardization bodies to develop appropriate standards based on the development of wireless technologies. So, if Apple released a 100% wireless iPhone, in the following years, a text like this on wireless charging could concern it.

Technologically, a smartphone without any wired ports is not impossible, Vivo has already presented such concepts. However, we can wonder if this would really be the most practical solution for users. Recharging could possibly be doneviaMagSafe, but would it have the same performance as a simple wired solution?

Despite these questions, it remains likely that the integration of USB-C on iPhones is only a relatively short step before the advent of a 100% wireless smartphone from Apple. To be continued.

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