The EU's decision to force USB-C on smartphones is a bad idea with good intentions
Those of us who have been using smartphones for several years know how frustrating the transition has been from proprietary chargers to Micro-USB and finally to USB-C. And even though most phones have moved to USB-C there are still many significant holdouts with Micro-USB — to say nothing of Apple's ongoing use of Lightning. The European Union is fed up with it, and is pushing to unify all portable devices on the USB-C port. That's a really great move in many ways — but its implementation won't be free of compromise.
The EU tried things the "easy" way back in 2014 with a voluntary initiative that attempted to get smartphone (and other portable device) companies to standardize their charging ports; although USB-C wasn't named specifically. But the results "fell short of the co-legislators' objectives" — notably, companies didn't seem to adopt USB-C any faster in the EU than they did elsewhere in the world, and there are still numerous new devices shipping without it.
The benefits are, at least, twofold. The EU's main goal is reducing electronics waste, where discarded chargers generate 51,000 tons of waste annually. Its assumption is that by standardizing on charging ports and cables, more of them can be reused for other devices rather than cast aside.
Of course, this won't completely fix the waste problem; just because a charger and/or cable is compatible with a phone or other portable device doesn't mean it will have the latest charging standard or speeds that you desire. It would, however, help dramatically lengthen the lifecycle of those devices as they work their way down the chain to secondary chargers and used as hand-me-downs.
And there's the clearest benefit to end consumers: if everything uses the same port and cable, you don't have to face any uncertainty or frustration when it comes to charging your devices or getting a charger from just about any source. It's the dream we've all been eyeing since USB-C started arriving in phones, tablets and laptops. And we've only gotten closer to the ideal world with USB-C being used in non-mobile applications, and new charger technologies like GaN that let small charging bricks output incredible amounts of power for a wide range of devices.
But having every company compelled — by some sort of regulatory measure, which the EU has yet to define — to use USB-C isn't necessarily a win for all parties.
Apple provided a critical counterpoint to all of the discussion up to this point: in its 2018 commentary to the proposed implementation of this regulation, it said "Regulations that would drive conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones freeze innovation rather than encourage it."
Apple obviously has a vested interest in stopping such regulations, as it has complete control over its own charging interface with the Lightning cable. But this commentary brings up the important point: if everyone is required to use USB-C, that may be a great idea right now; but at some point, it will start to feel old just like any other port would. And the requirement to put USB-C in every portable device could limit companies' willingness to develop new connectors — and even next-generation standards. Yes, some proprietary ports are developed solely to create a system in which a company controls the entire ecosystem of connectivity devices; but we don't necessarily know where port, charger and cable technology could go in the future.
That's all a bit theoretical, but there are obvious issues with forcing standardization on USB-C in the near term. Companies aren't using Micro-USB or other proprietary connectors simply because they don't care about consumers ... they're using it because it's either less expensive to implement, better for their hardware design, continues to build on their ecosystem of existing products, or some combination of the three. Phones with USB-C are more expensive to make than Micro-USB. And in the case of Apple, it could lead to an unfathomable amount of devices being transitioned to a new port before the company intended to do so.
It's clear there's no silver bullet here. In forcing companies to use USB-C, there are clear wins for consumers in cross-compatibility of devices and opening up the ability to charge any device with any charger. And society ends up better off any time we can reduce the amount of superfluous electronics waste we burden the world with. But frankly, we've already come so far toward standardizing on USB-C without any sort of regulation up to this point. And it's easy to see how forcing standardization on a single port could slow down development of the next generation of charging and data solutions.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.
-Government efforts maintained financial market liquidity when the private market failed in 2008, avoiding a great depression
-In the form of the Commercial Resupply program, was a first customer for low-cost private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX, who wouldn't have made it without government support.
-In the form of the Apollo program, was a first customer for high-risk but high-promise industry such as the semiconductor industry which led to the world we live in today.
-In the form of the defense department, funded the research that led to the modern internet.
-In the 80s, regulations worked to eliminate acid rain when private industry's incentives were to pollute more
-In the 80s, regulations worked to eliminate ozone-destroying chemicals when private industry's incentives were to pollute more
-In the 70s, regulations worked to eliminate smog when private industry's incentives were to avoid antipollution measures
-In the 70s, regulations worked to fix various dead rivers, including some like the Coyuhoga that would often catch on fire
-Created regulations that ensure your car isn't a death trap
-Built the highway systems that get you to your job, family, or vacation destination
-In every rich country but the USA, governments provide no-charge, universal, and effective medical care for about 1/5th the per-capita cost in the USA. Note: this actually vastly increases economic freedom because it means you can quit your job and pursue an idea without worrying about your dependents dying of preventable illnesses. And I know to some on the right some of these might be "infringements on people's rights", but you don't have a right to make my river burn, make my air unbreathable, destroy the ozone that protects me from skin cancer, or kill me in a car accident. Your rights stop when they hurt other people. In the end, an unfettered free market has many inevitable end cases such as the tragedy of the commons where many actors acting in their individual best interests actually act collectively to hurt their own interests - see fishery failures, for example. Markets are phenomenal ways to organize economies, so long as people recognize that regulations actually are necessary to avoid negative externalities like when companies pollute a common resource (air, water, or the ground) or draw down a resource (fisheries, forests) without paying for it or ensuring their usage is sustainable.
Can't say the same for United States. Since pharmaceutical companies charge an arm and a leg for meds that were made 40years ago
- thanks to governmental intervention, OEMs are forced in Europe to provide users with a 2 year legal warranty. That means OEMs can no longer scam people and produce products with programmed obsolescence after 2 months or 6 months or 1 year. And OEM is now accountable for the quality of the product they sell for 2 years. If it doesn't last that long, they have to repair it free of charge.
That's great for the consumer. And even for the environment. It's not great from snake oil sellers, but that's the sort of people no one will cry over.
Unfortunately, most of my older power banks and wireless headphones have the micro port. My new power banks have USB C and A only, though I do have a nice one with two USB A outputs, one USB C in/out, and one micro-USB input. At least it covers all the bases, lol. It will take a while to outgrow USB C with it's 10Gb data speeds and 100 watt charging, but it will happen eventually. Apple's big loss will be licensing fees on everything Lightning, as when a company makes an accessory, they have to pay for variations of the same product. One set of Lightning headphones in four colors? That's four fees. At least the Lightning connector itself is pretty robust with beefy contacts and a latching mechanism. I feel that Lightning and micro-USB connectors are both more secure fitting than USB C.
Because that's how European Law works. They will force OEMs to get together and CHOOSE one standard charging method. But they will NOT dictate if it's to be USB-C, Lightning, micro-USB or anything else they might come up with. The point is to standardise the charging method, NOT force one specific method. And that's a good thing.
It's ridiculous that each phone can come with a specific charging method, specially proprietary ones like the iPhone. If anything, the worst would be for Apple who would be forced to either put USB-C on their phones OR drop the European market. And don't for a minute think Europeans would care if they chose option 2. Apple's marketshare in Europe is irrelevant, specially as the country where Apple weighted more - the United Kindgom - is about to leave the EU anyway. And then there's wireless charging.
The idea is to standardise the charging method. Well, companies can simply agree to all adopt Qi charging for their phones and make port-charging a secondary method.
Wireless charging isn't expensive and there's really only one standard after PMA failed to gain traction years ago. It's 2020. ALL phones should come with wireless charging anyway.
So if they make wireless charging the standard and push it to consumers, most people will switch to it, thus solving the problem as it'll also drastically reduce the consumer usage of cables - and therefore waste - as well as allow for infrastructure to be deployed across europe in café's, shops, malls, restaurants, public services etc that allows people to charge their phones without the need for more cables.
The reasoning that regulation to one type of port would stifle innovation is 1980's thinking. We been there, done that. Free market thinking has been beneficial, but now leads to more inequality in this world, but that's a discussion for another day. Set one standard, and then let companies run away with it. A good mix of regulation AND free market development
1. Charge current: Shall devices/charger limit charge at at 1, 3, or 10 amps? Why not 20A and make everything really, really fast! Yeah...great idea...let's slam a device with 10 amps that is engineered to accept 1A - the fires will be great! Global warming for all of the EU!
2. Voltage: Some phones can initially fast charge up to 10 volts then pull down the charge voltage - this will blow out a lot of poorly design, older electronics. Some phones will not even charge at first at 5V/1A (Samsung Note 9).
3. Voltage/current regulation: Where are the charge tapering definitions? Oh yeah...let's just keep pumping 10A right up to the last second....the heating will be super in those snowy climates of the EU.
4. Wire size: Some devices could TRY to draw 10A through a crap 24 gauge "EU/standard" wire. Fantastic!
5. RF noise: Does a quality product (e.g., $2,000 laptop) enjoy unregulated voltage loaded with lots of AC ripple voltage on the line? - NO! I love standards, I really like the USB-C plug compared to exposed pins on the idiotic Apple plug, but I cannot find ANYTHING written from these EU fools to protect products in a backward compatibility direction, nor plan for future needs. IDIOTS!
* Apple just wants that sweet sweet Royalties from Cable OEM's and 1st Party Cable Sales Apple makes 1 6 Billion ayear from the lighting cables which at least the 1st party ones fail much quicker than even the cheapest 3rd party USB C cables they are too thin of a seelve with no reinforcement and too stiff of a neck (the part where the head and cable meet!) so they wear out often leaving exposed wires that can shock/electrocute you and start fires just so they can sell more cables and make more money!!!!