The European Commission is planning to once again assess the impact of having multiple phone connectors in the market, with hopes to standardize them. Ten years ago, 14 major tech companies signed a voluntary agreement to use micro-USB. Apple is one of few to ignore its promise, still retaining its infamous Lightning Connectors.
Now EU competition Chief Margrethe Vesteager says the Commission may consider ‘other options’ to get what it wants.
“Given the unsatisfactory progress with this voluntary approach, the Commission will shortly launch an impact assessment study to evaluate costs and benefits of different other options,” she said in response to an EU lawmaker.
The announcement comes amid rumors that Apple is planning a slow switch to USB-C, a standard among Android phones and now Microsoft’s Surface tablets. However, it does raise the worry of excessive regulation.
The Innovation Argument
Though Apple’s Lightning connector doesn’t currently do much that USB-C can’t, forcing USB-C or Micro-USB adoption could stifle innovation in the future. It’s a thin line to tread, and no doubt the EU will consider this in its research.
However, its worth noting that the EU has threatened legislation in the past. In 2014, it threatened a law when Apple failed to make changes but later backed off when companies signed letters of intent.
Four years later, Apple hasn’t changed, and previous EU studies have revealed that differing chargers lead to more than a little inconvenience. In 2009, it estimated that 51,000 tons of electronic waste was created by incompatible phone chargers each year.
It’s likely that number has changed significantly since as Android phones move towards standardization, but the need for it is arguably higher than ever. With an increasing number of phones forgoing the headphone jack, consumers need to buy new dongles as well as new chargers.
The EU has previously had success with strong measures such as roaming at no extra charge within its borders. When it comes to charging, though, such a measure may be a little too draconian. It’ll be interesting to see what the Commission thinks up in the coming months.