The European Parliament adopts the use of a universal charger for electronic devices from autumn 2024

The last uncertainty hanging over the common European charger was lifted on Tuesday, October 4, with the vote by the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, of the “universal charger for electronic devices” directive. Manufacturers have two years to comply: in the fall of 2024, most new models of mobile electronic devices will have to be equipped with the same power connector, to the USB-C standard, which will allow them to share the same charger.

This concerns smartphones, tablets, portable consoles, e-readers, cameras, as well as Bluetooth speakers and rechargeable headphones. Laptops will have until early 2026 to convert. As for connected watches, they escape it for the moment because of their compactness. MEPs overwhelmingly approved this measure on Tuesday, by 602 votes for, 13 against and 8 abstentions.

Practical and ecological

The objective is twofold. From an ecological point of view, the European Union (EU) wants to offer chargers a longer life than the devices they equip. Manufacturers will also be required to offer new devices in a version without a charger. In addition, the EU wants to make life easier for consumers by avoiding the juggling of different chargers.

The EU directive will put out of service old power supplies and the specific cables that equip them, pruning along the way the forest of cables that line our electrical outlets. However, this simplification will take a few years, the time that older generation devices, with non-standard connectors, will be scrapped.

The regulations also provide for the charging speed to be harmonized for devices authorizing fast charging, to prevent it from being restricted when used with a device of a different brand.

Read also: The European Union has voted in favor of a universal charger by autumn 2024 for electronic devices

Robust and easy to use

The standard EU-chosen power plug, USB-C, is anything but an unknown. Since 2015, it has imposed itself by constantly conquering new electronic devices, thanks to three advantages: compactness, robustness, ease of insertion. However, two categories of products still refuse to comply: devices with an outdated design – first-price smartphones, low-end PCs, for example – as well as many of the latest generation Apple products.

The Californian manufacturer’s smartphones, its headphones and some of its tablets use a brand-specific connector, the Lightning, which is flatter than the USB-C connector. However, Apple is far from being an opponent of USB-C: this power connector has been fitted to its pro tablets and some of its computers for several years. But the Californian company is notoriously opposed to the obligation to generalize this socket to all its mobile electronic devices. Apple points to the ecological waste that will be caused by the disposal of Lightning cables, which hundreds of millions of people own, as well as the setting aside of certain accessories, headphones or charging stations, for example.

A brake on innovation?

In addition, Apple believes that the requirement to use USB-C is a barrier to innovation. However, the EU seems determined not to block the evolution of mobile devices. It refuses, for the moment, to standardize an alternative power supply process, wireless charging, on the grounds that this technology is still young and that it can still evolve. A lack of maturity which opposes it to the USB-C power connector, a proven technology which does not seem to have an urgent need to evolve in depth.

Apple will not, moreover, be totally prevented from innovating. The manufacturer will be able to continue to insert charging connectors of a new kind on some of its devices: those which have enough space to integrate several of them. On a laptop, for example, Apple can place, in addition to a USB-C connector, a second charging socket. MacBooks will therefore not necessarily lose their magnetic connector, the MagSafe.

On more compact devices such as smartphones, it is likely that there is not enough space to insert two power sockets. If Apple wishes to innovate, and seeks to replace the USB-C connector, the company will be forced to coordinate its efforts with the rest of the industry to hope to convince the EU of the merits of this potential advance. A strategy that would deprive the brand of the exclusivity of this technology, and therefore, of a commercial argument.

Fifteen years to complete

After the vote of the European Parliament, the Council will, in turn, have to approve the text, which will then be signed by the President of the Parliament and the Presidency of the Council before being published in the Official newspaper. For the EU, this directive closes a long sequence of regulations started in 2009, when the European executive pushed manufacturers to self-regulate, by standardizing their connectors themselves. An initiative which had already led to the disappearance of some of the “exotic” chargers.

This process was relaunched in 2018, in a more restrictive spirit, leading to the present success. No one will regret the proliferation of chargers in the 1990s, when each brand used a range of different cables depending on its ranges, often incompatible with connectors from competing brands.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Europe wants to impose a universal charger for smartphones, regardless of brand

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