Apple pushes back against EU common charger, warns of innovation risks

Customers are pictured next to an Apple logo during the start of sales of the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and Apple Watch Series 5 at the Apple Store in Frankfurt Main, Germany, 20 September 2019. [EPA-EFE/ARMANDO BABANI]

iPhone maker Apple on Thursday (23 January) pushed back against EU lawmakers’ call for a common charger, warning the move could hamper innovation, create a mountain of electronic waste and irk consumers.

Apple’s comments came a week after lawmakers at the European Parliament called for a common charger for all mobile devices and amended a draft law to say the ability to work with common chargers would be an essential requirement for radio equipment in the bloc.

A move to a common charger would affect Apple more than any other companies as its iPhones and most of its products are powered by its Lightning cable, whereas Android devices are powered by USB-C connectors.

“We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole,” Apple said in a statement.

It said regulation was not needed as the industry is already moving to USB-C through a connector or cable assembly.

“We hope the (European) Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry’s ability to innovate,” Apple said.

A study by Copenhagen Economics commissioned by Apple showed that consumer harm from a regulatory-mandated move to a common charger would cost at least 1.5 billion euros, outweighing the 13 million euros in associated environmental benefits.

The European Commission, which acts as the executive for the EU, has been pushing for a common charger for mobile phones more than a decade. The initiative comes from Solomon Passy and his wife Gergana Passy, Bulgarian politicians and active citizens. It has been taken on board by Günter Verheugen in his former capacity of Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry (2004- 2010). The result has been partially successful.

In 2009 it got four companies including Apple, Samsung, Huawei [HWT.UL] and Nokia to sign a voluntary memorandum of understanding to harmonize chargers for new models of smartphones coming into the market in 2011.

A 2014 study showed a reduction in the number of different chargers for smartphones from 30 in 2009 to three. However, when buying new devices, new chargers automatically come with the device.

The voluntary approach is not working and it is time to look into legislation, Commission officials said.

“A delegated act based on the Radio Equipment Directive (RED) is one of the options to be considered since it empowers the Commission to take certain type of regulatory measures in this field,” the one of the officials said.

Another option was to pass legislation on the issue.

“…given the limitation in the scope of RED and of its empowerment, any action through ordinary legislative procedure and/or through other instruments, such as implementing measures under the Eco-design Directive should be further explored and thoroughly assessed,” the official said.

The Commission will publish a study around the end of the month or early February on the impact of a common charger.

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