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The EU's decision to force USB-C on smartphones is a bad idea with good intentions

USB-C ports on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 4
USB-C ports on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

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.

Standardizing on USB-C will immediately reduce charger and cable waste as they're reused for multiple devices.

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.

The clearest benefit to consumers is knowing for certain that every device you have uses the same plug.

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.

Source: iMore (Image credit: Source: iMore)

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.

The near term benefits are massive; but in the long term this could slow development of improved ports.

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.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • Governments getting involved in anything is always a bad idea. This will kill innovation. Free markets is what brought us the iphone and android competitors. The innovation of the USB-C is a result of free market innovation. Governments getting involved will never allow us to see what the next USB-xxxx will be. It'll take years of red tape and increased costs all which affect us with higher priced devices. There are no good intentions will governments getting involved in anything but they want votes and power.
  • Your entire argument is flawed. Arguing that governmental regulation is always a bad idea is just idiocy. I'm not going to argue that they need to regulate the ports on phones. However, saying it's a bad idea based only upon the idea that it's government regulation is just stupid.
  • Give me an example of one time a government did something that was good? That wasn't exploited, or over budget, or infringement on people's rights?
  • Are you implying laws and regulations shouldn't exist because government is bad?
  • Well, if it wasn't for government regulation your mattress would be filled with garbage, your medicine would be sugar and a pound of flour would actually be half a pound of flour and a quarter of a pound of chalk dust. All things that have happened, look it up.
  • Fuzzy, logic and facts are not allowed in Trump's America.
  • That's brilliant. Let a company waste money selling a mattress filled with garbage be free to do so. Let them go out of business. You don't need regulations for that.
  • The regulation was put in place because it was necessary, not for fun. Go and educate yourself on the subject before bumbling about something you don't understand like a fool. Or continue to show your ignorance, I don't actually care.
  • Meanwhile, thousands of people (or kids) get sick and potentially die because of the crap in those mattresses. You're making a lot of sense. While you're trying to act like you're out to protect those vulnerable consumers, remember that it's usually the most vulnerable populations that are exploited by these types of business activities. Their child will get pneumonia or something and die from sleeping on a garbage mattress, and then they won't be able to do anything about it, cause they can't afford it. And we all know who Class Action Lawsuits benefit (not to mention, if the law allows business to kill people like this... it's likely they wouldn't be set up to take them to task for it, anyways). While I'm no fan of OVER-regulation, I am for regulation. People die when you allow everything to be the Wild Wild West. Step into the real world, with the rest of us.
  • -The EU charger mandate made it so your phone didn't use only one standard of overpriced charger.
    -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.
  • Free Healthcare in my country.
    Can't say the same for United States. Since pharmaceutical companies charge an arm and a leg for meds that were made 40years ago
  • I'm shocked they haven't replied to that one.
  • I despise the huge costs from Pharma but per a direct contact at Pfizer, their prices are regularly driven up 10-fold to ensure the last 1 in 10,000 user is never impacted. The number of miracle drugs that are blocked if they do not exceed 1 ppm failure is beyond sad that that is DIRECTLY from government demands. Due to medical testing regulations, NOT ONE drug today takes less than 5 years for FDA approval with most cancer drugs taking 10+ years and that is all government driven. That costs BILLIONS of dollars so they have got to recoup the money somewhere. Millions of people die waiting so long when many are willing to try. Pharma companies, still after years and thousands of tests, remain to open to billions in lawsuits from greasy lawyers if one person dies. And 90% of all credible drugs come from the USA. Ever try a drug made in China? Nope.
  • And to add to the list of things others have already provided:
    - 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.
  • Manufacturer consumer product warranties have been voluntarily offered to consumers from manufacturers in the USA since 1950. Car warranties since 1960 and most car warranties in the USA today promote 5 years/70,000 miles. Also, in the USA there are things called "implied warranties" that are unwritten but defended by simple common sense and still protected by law. Again, the mighty EU is ensuring warranties LESS than what I can get in the USA voluntarily driven by product quality and competition, not some bloated slobs sitting in a central office in Brussels.
  • Implied warranty of a product for a purpose is supported by law... case law and legislation. Having a base law of an amount of time is not a bad thing... It's a great start that often causes companies to compete on providing a better amount of time than their peer. Why do you think lemon laws were created, it's because there was no warranty requirement in some cases and in others a seller could string you on forever, "fixing" or providing warranty service on something that should have never been sold or at the least needs to truly be fixed and not band-aided forever. Som much of what you enjoy as common sense was anything but until it was codified in law. BTW, common sense is not of itself a legal argument and often goes up against the other legal argument of buyer beware... I wish the US had a law that stated all items sold as new or refurbished must have at minimum a 2 year warranty that actually covers use if the item for it's intended purpose and does not allow a manufacturer to claim general Ware and tear... The point is to use the item, if it falls during normal use in a short period of time the item was crap... No, companies should not be allowed to sell crap for 6 months or a year until complaints show up on Amazon and then the company sells the same crap under a different model number and repeats the process.
  • Generally any statement that is phrased in an absolute/polarizing way is probably not true.
  • It's obvious it didn't help trying to push it. It's almost hard to find micro-USB ports in the US unless it's a budget device.
    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.
  • I've just read a report from the BBC that suggests Apple will go with wireless charging on all their devices to get around this regulation. So up goes the price again. For everyone else, just buy a pack of adapters, they're cheap as chips.
  • We're years and years away from Apple dropping a port entirely. They love wireless charging, but there are clearly still massive issues with making it the only way to charge. Chief among them (at least from Apple's perspective) being the requirement to ship the phone with a wireless charger, which is a huge cost.
  • Not to mention you've neutered CarPlay....
  • "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." Good thing that the EU is NOT going to force any specific port then.
    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.
  • But, if the goal is to reduce waste, do they really want to go for a charging method for millions of devices that wastes 46% of the electricity? Inductive charging is still inefficient and slow.
  • Central government planning destroys innovation and it is proven every day. Without the ongoing R&D development in gasoline engines outside the EU, the world would still be choking on filthy diesel. The people have caught on to the diesel lie for cars which does not apply for high torque truck engine needs. The EU government taxed gasoline much higher than diesel to push people to buy diesel cars. Now that the continent is covered in an oily soot with disgusting air, the public has finally awoken thanks to forced government use and VW's dieselgate. That is why diesel car sales have plummeted from 90% to 35% of sales in the EU in just 10 years. Thanks to modern tech developed by business (NOT government) diesel should disappear from all but truck engines where it is genuinely optimized for.
  • When some gov't official comes to you and says, "I'm from the government, I'm here to help..." then you should be afraid. Praytell why does the gov't need to get involved in this matter? What business is it of theirs? I can remember when charge/data ports were on the left, the bottom, the right and some were proprietary; but since those years ago the industry has standardized on the micro-USB and is of its own volition transitioning to USB-type C. Most every place has micro-USB, USB-type C and Lighting for sale or to borrow (I work at a hotel and literally just had a guy come to the desk and guess what he asked for and I had available in my gift shop - ALL THREE....). This is just the gov't looking to fix a problem where no problem exists. Lets worry about this of all things. Give me a break!
  • The EU is right to do this. For the last 5 or 6 years the EU has let the "free market" allowed to switch to USB-C (or whatever the standard would be). This clearly has not worked as we still see a lot of devices with lightning or micro-usb ports.
    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
  • Sorry b4rtw - get ready for USB4, established 2019. The USB-C standard released August 2014 yet the EU took 5.5 YEARS to push for standardization?! What?! And the EU standards morons are blind to the new USB4 standard just released?! How many decades will it take the EU to accept this standard or will they simply force people to use USB-C past its life span?
  • Defining the mechanical plug, and not the electronics/wiring behind it, is utter ignorance proving the EU is inept relying on visual issues to define standards. Government once more (especially the EU) are utter idiots and create more dangers to citizens than they fix. As an Electrical Engineer, I have yet to find ANY info on the following items yet I could list another dozen issues allowing moron government officials to dictate such standards:
    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!
  • USB C plugs have resistors on board to stop overvoltage and overheating! I have used a 60watt USB C charger and cable for laptop to charge my phone which has a max 18watt limit how the devices themselves have Capacitors, Resistors & Chokes to stop themselves from being fried by more powerful chargers the devices being charged determine the power level not the charging devices/bricks but all but the most dodgy chargers can determine the devices power requirements and send the right power level! What I am saying is that a brick and phone talk to each other to determine best charging levels but even if the charger sends to much power the phone can resist the extra power (unless it's pure mains power!) But the cable should fail before your charging port gets fried basically Follow this Rule of thumb do not trust no name chargers or cables! Apple puts USB C on the iOad Pro and all the Nacbooks but somehow USB C is not good enough for their phones because it stifles creativity?!
    * 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!!!!
  • The law they proposed is simply standardising the connector plug but that can always be revised later to make the plug better USB A went from 1 to 1.1 to 2 to 3 to 3.1 now 4 but they all use the same plug type just newer gen has more pins to carry more power and data so a USB 4 memory stick can be used in a USB 1 port but only at the USB 1 speeds a port can be backwards compatible while still being able to be improved if that is true of USB A, HDMI, DISPLAY PORT why can it not be for USB C which has already moved from Gen 2 USB to Gen 3 & 3.1 now Gen 4 (which btw is the exact same thing as Thunderbolt 3)?????? How is that stifling creativity? I lived through the era where every phone maker had a special plug same too with PC's we need standards and they do grow with time AVI became DVI which became HDMI imagine if regulators in the 90's had allowed every PC maker to continue using only their own proprietary ports and peripherals with no standard ports?!
  • A standard plug gives NO guarantee of performance or safety. It is just an ignorant, "feel-good", political action to lul people into confidence their government is doing something when it is as dumb a move as saying all car tires must be 16" here forward to standardize all wheels. We have had USB-A and B plugs for 20 years. What good is just standard plug when all the circuitry and data streams behind it changed about every 5 years? That is the same as using the same wall plugs in America (110V) around the world in 220V systems. Unless the device is multi-voltage designed, this is loaded for disaster! Also, you totally missed the point regarding how standards evolve - they start with a design from a company. Intel created the Gen1 USB which was then adopted by the USB users group ( It continued to increase in power and data rates over time but it was NOT just about a standardized cable. The power and data circuits supporting the cable evolved. Using typical timing for approval of EU standards they would still be on USB 3.0 today. As for protection systems, this is only a signaling system to the power supply, not the device. $1 cables from a cheap outlet store have nothing in them for protection and have huge voltage drops (heating). This triggers a fault signal to the device for charging and then no data flows either. Simplistic solutions suggested like this are ignorant and clearly come from politicians that are trying to find something to do, nothing more.
  • I participated in the first micro-USB standard which was actually proposed by Intel, first engineered application by Motorola, and supported by the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association), NOT a government group of political hacks. Yet the EU morons fought this like mad to protect the lousy Nokia charger standard which is laughable today. Government should simply define a problem, NOT set any standards, and let business make the solutions. As soon as the bureaucrats touch technology it becomes a sewer. Next up are power tool batteries and chargers! Yeah, why not? Let's force $200 battery standards on $30 battery drill motors! Most government goobers, and especially the EU, are simply bored and looking to justify their existence. They are bent on 'saving the planet' pushing short term standards that wind making things worse in the long term.
  • The job of government is to regulate that is the sole purpose of government just not over regulate which all do these days or under regulate which they all do it's not a Paradox just the Rich and/or Powerful looking after their own interests not the people's! This law is a good thing why is USB C good enough for the Macbooks and iPad Pro but not the regular iPads or the iPhone's but that this law would slow down if not stop creativity and innovation is just a joke Apple just dose not want to loose the 1.6 Billion dollars cash cow called Lighting that they make through cables & Dongle sales from their 1st party stuff as well as Royalties from OEM Cable & Dongle makers
  • Lord awar, maybe the sole purpose of the EU government is to regulate but the American govt purpose is to (1) defend the citizens to hostile entities and (2) provide equal opportunity for all people and business to pursue a positive life thus leading the world in nearly every modern technology and cultural success. Your view confirms exactly why the UK is racing to get out of such an over-regulated mess called the EU. Such thinking is why most of the EU is covered in a layer of soot, belched out from forced use of diesel engines supported by punishing taxes while modern gasoline engines produce nearly the same performance and thousands of times lower particulates. Just look at a modern Toyota 4 cylinder efficiency which is infinitely lower in emissions yet with power and efficiency per liter approaching diesels. As for forced EU regulations, by the time they are written and approved, technology already moved well on. This forces the citizens to conform to old tech effectively punishing them and blocking newer, better solutions. The EU spent years trying to protect the power standard of Nokia for phones while modern mini and micro USB and Apple solutions eclipsed the old. Now the EU pushes USB-C which may be fine today, but it will appear as dated as the Nokia standard within 10 years. Meanwhile the rest of the world moves on to chargers and cables with 10 times the speed, capacity, and convenience. Independent business trade organizations ALWAYS give us the best standards but 90% of their core design starts with a business such as Intel and its USB designs.
  • Yes and how great are things working in US health, telecom and other sensitive industries. Some of the industries (related to basic needs) are better regulated or they will just squeeze people to their death for profits.
  • Well Girts, as you take your cancer meds (most invented in USA), after your titanium knee replacement (pioneered and likely built in USA), after your MRI (invented/built in USA), and your pacemaker (invented, likely built in USA).....shall I go on? Oh...and if I need any of the above I wait for days, not months or years, like the sewer call the NHS and other health ghettos. Yes, health care is blind to income in the USA if you need it. As for telecom, I am certain you enjoy your Netflix, Wifi, and cell phone - all invented in USA. Shall I go on about your joke cell phone rates and coverage in the EU. need to think about what you are saying but I realize that is hard.
  • Well, regardless of the story about Nokia chargers, it was the EU that gave a huge push towards adopting microUSB charger as the standard for mobile devices ( Was it a good thing? I definitely think so, one of the greatest things EU did. Among with reducing mobile roaming costs in EU. Next to promoting USB-C they should promote USB-PD as well.
  • Girts, that "push" was done 5 YEARS after the standard had become established in the USA and in production by Palm, Motorola and others. The EU took FIVE YEARS to wake up to a rapidly expanding standard when it was already adopted everywhere EXCEPT in the EU which had to suddenly end the push on Nokia garbage plug which had no data path. Wow...really an impressive shift for these government idiots.
  • As nice as it is 3ft isnt progress its regression thats why compaines still make A to c cables. In order for type c to really take off they need to mandate 24 gauge cables or jump to cornings optical usb standard
  • They could set minimums which does not hinder innovation. Simply, take the best parts of USB-C and state that all products manufactured after date X must either be USB-C and/or exceed the minimum specifications of concern. For example, minimum charge and data transfer speeds and whatever else is critical at the base layer or desired (energy efficiency for example). Companies can then choose to adopt USB-C version X which meet the specifications today or do whatever they want as long as they exceed the specifications. This sets a bottom which does not include old USB specifications and allows companies to invent all they want as long as their invention somehow ads value to consumers. Consumers can than vote as normal in a free market by buying whatever they want from what's available. I for one decided a while ago that I will not buy anything that charges using USB technology older than USB-C. This includes earbuds and phones (I normally purchase refurbished phones). My family's migration has begun. That also means, Amazon, we will not replace our kids fire tablets with a new cheap fire tablet unless it uses usb-c. We may not buy another one anyway, but if we decided to upgrade/replace someday, that purchase would be delayed or redirected until it would be for usb-c device.