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Apple’s lightning cables hit by European law demanding one size fits all

Is this the end of Apple’s lightning port, which has been frustrating users and creating mountains of e-waste since its introduction?

Apple has been given two years to phase out its sale of iPhones with lightning ports in the European Union after the European Parliament approved a new law.

Under rules passed on Tuesday, all mobile phones, tablets and cameras sold in the EU’s 27 nations must have a USB-C charging port by the end of 2024.

All laptop computers will need to make the change by 2026.

The European Parliament passed the law with a landslide 602-13 vote, according to a press release. The rules will need to be approved by the EU Council before officially coming into effect.

Experts say this may spur the extinction of the lightning port altogether, with the possibility that Apple may have no choice but to embrace USB-C connectivity for devices across all its markets.

The lightning port

The lightning port was introduced on September 12, 2012, when Apple announced it would be used in the iPhone 5, iPad devices and the iPod Nano.

It promised faster charging and was significantly slimmer than the existing clunky 30-pin dock connector.

Aside from mobile devices, AirPods, Apple TV remotes, Apple Pencils and keyboards also use lightning cords to charge.

One of the few exceptions to Apple’s lightning port rule are its MacBooks and iPads, which currently sport USB-C connections.

Apple is the last tech giant to make the move to USB-C ports, with Google and Samsung having charged with USB-C for years now.

The change will dampen Apple’s profits.

The company earns income licensing its trademarked lightning chargers to third-party manufacturers that make chargers for their devices, such as Belkin and Kogan.

Apple

The EU is cracking down on Apple’s lightning cables (left) with USB-C cables (right) to become the standard for most electronic devices. Photo: Getty

E-waste

With so many Apple products relying on lightning connectivity, the rule will spur a major redesign for almost all items in the tech giant’s range.

By having a universal USB-C port across most devices, the European Union hopes to reduce the number of chargers and converters consumers buy and dispose of.

E-waste, or electronic waste, is the fastest-growing waste stream in the European Union, and a significant issue worldwide.

According to data from the World Health Organisation, 45 million tonnes of electronic waste are produced each year.

This figure could top 120 million tonnes annually by 2050.

Apple

The variety of different charging ports needed for devices is adding to e-waste. Photo: Getty

RMIT associate professor Mark Gregory said the change would drastically reduce the number of cords consumers need.

“It will mean that we don’t end up with plastic containers full of different chargers,” Professor Gregory told TND.

Professor Gregory said the legislation was a step forward, but the EU “didn’t go far enough”.

The decision should have also encompassed ‘smart’ home devices like the Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.

“All of these devices have different connectors and different charging packs. And so we’re going down the same path again, but with another area of technology,” Professor Gregory said.

“So the EU should have moved very quickly, to enforce that all of these electronic devices should use USB-C chargers.”

Ripple effect

The change is so far limited to countries in the EU, but due to the sheer size of Apple’s European market, the tech giant may bring USB-C connectivity to all its products internationally.

Professor Gregory said he expected Apple would “fall in line” and make the USB-C change for all its lightning-cabled products.

However, Apple could continue to milk its users’ cord and adaptor woes.

“We have to remember that the key reason that companies utilise different connectors on every subsequent device that comes along is that it’s about making money,” he said.

As for the legislation, momentum appears to be building for the US to follow in the EU’s direction.

Prominent US senators Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders signed a letter to the US Commerce Department’s secretary in June, calling for the department to address the “lack of interoperability standards for charging and other device accessories”.

“We urge you to follow the EU’s lead by developing a comprehensive strategy to address unnecessary consumer costs, mitigate e-waste, and restore sanity and certainty to the process of purchasing new electronics,” their letter wrote.

Professor Gregory implored the government to consider following in the EU’s footsteps.

“Personally, I would like to see the Australian government consider a regulation now that this has happened in Europe,” he said.

“[A regulation] that is more broad, and includes all electronic devices [such as] home devices, laptops, computers, devices that we might use in our vehicles, and so on. There’s quite a few that really should be using USB-C now.”

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