The Jolly Teapotby Nicolas Magand
24 September 2021

The European Commission wants to impose USB-C on most mobile devices

Kelvin Chan, writing of AP News about the EU demanding a single plug for phones:

The European Union announced plans Thursday to require the smartphone industry to adopt a uniform charging cord for mobile devices, a push that could eliminate the all-too-familiar experience of rummaging through a drawer full of tangled cables to find the right one.

All too familiar? Do people look for a cable every day to charge their phone? Do people get a new phone every week? If you have such a cable-filled drawer, maybe you have to look into it once or twice a year, but how is this a first-world problem? How on Earth is this an environmental priority for the European Commission in the era of NFTs and bitcoins?

The main holdout is Apple, which said it was concerned the new rules would limit innovation, and that would end up hurting consumers. iPhones come with the company’s own Lightning charging port, though the newest models come with cables that can be plugged into a USB-C socket.

The wall-socket situation, I think, is an even worse problem, not mentioned at all in the legislation. Now that most companies, including Apple, are starting to use USB-C on the other end of the cable, the billions of USB-A plugs on chargers, in cars and on many devices will become more or less useless. Since we change phones every 2 to 3 years anyway, unlike charging bricks (some of them I have since the 2000s), and that phones are sold with a cable but without a charger, shouldn’t the legislation focus on the other end of that cable too, where innovation and space are less critical than on the device side? How is regulating only one end of the cables truly useful regarding e-waste and improving consumer convenience?

The push by the EU will certainly be cheered by the millions of people who have searched through a jumble of snarled cables for the one that fits their phone.

What about the millions who have been using Lightning for the past 9 years without ever having to think about it? Pretty sure Lightning — introduced in 2012 with the iPhone 5 — is the least offending standard in terms of waste, since it hasn’t changed in 9 years. All those cables will end up being useless, so much for limiting waste.

The commission said the typical EU resident owns at least three chargers, and use two regularly, but 38% of people report not being able to charge their phones at least once because they couldn’t find a compatible charger.

In my own experience, having worked at Xiaomi, the main issue with cables comes for the slowest switch ever, the switch from Micro-USB to USB-C. For years, the two plug formats coexisted, and depending on which Android phone you’d get, you’d have a different cable, not even mentioning the accessories such as external batteries, wireless earbuds, etc. So, maybe this law could be sort of effective if there is one cable to rule them all, on both sides of the cable?

Earbuds, smartwatches and fitness trackers aren’t included.

Well, if earbuds are not included in the law, I’m sure all the problems will go away, and people will have a drawer full of tangled earbuds cables, and the one cable for the phones. You know, progress.

I get the ambition of this proposed legislation, I do, but I think it not only comes way too late (should have happened in the early days of USB-C circa 2015), only focuses on the device-end of the cable — which is dumb — but it will soon be a burden for the whole industry: looking forward to 2037 when the EC finally updates the law to allow a newer and better type of plug.

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