Apple is in the spotlight again after a group of Senators published a letter on Thursday asking the U.S. Commerce Department to establish a universal charging standard for smartphones.
Signed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the document urges the Department of Commerce to take after the European Union by coming up with a plan to create a common charging standard. Unlike the EU with its USB-C mandate, these democratic officials are broadly asking for a strategy to be developed and leaving it up to the Department of Commerce to settle on a single universal port.
The politician’s arguments echo those made by the EU: that a charging standard can reduce e-waste, remove unnecessary costs for customers, and “restore sanity and certainty to the process of purchasing new electronics.” Along with the environmental benefits, the politicians say the “planned obsolescence” caused by evolving incompatible charging standards is expensive and frustrating for consumers.
The letter is addressed to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who has yet to respond.
“The EU has wisely acted in the public interest by taking on powerful technology companies over this consumer and environmental issue,” the senators wrote. “The United States should do the same. We urge you to coordinate with offices and agencies across the Department of Commerce to develop a comprehensive plan that will protect both consumers and the environment by addressing the lack of a common U.S. charging standard.”
While the industry has largely landed on using USB-C (with Apple being the big outlier) as a universal standard, these US senators claim the average consumer owns three mobile phone chargers and 40% of smartphone owners say they “could not charge their mobile phone because available chargers were incompatible.” When a cable can’t charge their devices, it gets thrown away, adding to the 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste generated in 2017 alone, according to the letter.
Read between the lines here and you see that Apple could soon be asked to move from its proprietary Lightning connector to USB-C. As it stands, Apple is the only major tech company in the US to not adopt USB-C on its smartphones, opting instead for a longstanding proprietary cable that enables MagSafe compatibility. This legislation would likely apply to smartphones, tablets, and speakers, but should it be expanded, Apple’s MacBooks are in the clear, as they already charge via USB-C.
Critics, notably Apple, have called out the EU regulation by claiming it could stifle innovation. The iPhone maker argues that moving to a common charger could do more damage than good and forcing the move from lightning to USB-C will create more e-waste than it reduces. Apple pointed out that the industry has already consulted down to two charging standards as a result of a voluntary policy the EU put in place back in 2019.
The EU estimates that the USB-C mandate could save consumers 250 million euros per year and reduce e-waste by 11,000 tons annually. It assures phone makers and consumers that the legislation will be updated to keep up with advancing technology.
Mandating a common charging standard could be nothing more than a formality if rumours about Apple moving the iPhone to USB-C are true. Reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed earlier this year that the iPhone arriving in the second half of 2023 — presumably the iPhone 15 — will ditch the Lightning connector for USB-C. Another report claims testing to replace Lightning with USB-C is already underway.