They have been chewed, misplaced, stolen, repaired, tripped, confused, disentangled and sworn by dogs.
Now the well-known iPhone charger is about to be disconnected for good.
Most important points:
- The EU requires one type of charger for smartphones and similar electronic devices
- This will likely force Apple to change the design of iPhones sold around the world
- That’s bad news if you just bought wired earphones for your iPhone
Last week, the European Commission reached a preliminary agreement that requires smartphones and other similar devices sold within EU borders to use the same USB-C charging port.
While the rules don’t rule out the iPhone, Apple has been most affected by the change and has lobbied hard against a mandate that would effectively ban its proprietary Lightning connector, which has been standard on new iPhones since 2012.
Here’s what the proposed changes to the EU rule mean for Australians.
What does the EU propose?
Hardware manufacturers and technology companies have until the end of 2024 to ensure that certain products sold in the EU have USB-C ports.
These products include smartphones, tablets, headphones, cameras, e-readers, handheld game consoles, keyboards and computer mice.
Laptop makers have a little longer: 40 months from when European lawmakers approve the deal, which should be soon.
Why is the EU doing this?
According to the European Commission, a universal charger for smartphones and other devices will save people money, stimulate innovation in wireless charging and reduce electronic waste or e-waste.
It says that European consumers spend about 2.4 billion euros ($3.58 billion) annually on standalone chargers they bought separately, and the deal would mean saving them about 240 million euros ($358 million).
What does Apple say?
Almost the exact opposite.
According to Apple, the mandate will increase e-waste and slow innovation.
“We remain concerned that strict regulations requiring only one type of connector will stifle rather than encourage innovation, which in turn will hurt consumers in Europe and around the world,” Apple said last year.
In response, the committee said smartphone makers would be given a 24-month transition period and “ample time” to adapt.
What does this mean for Australians?
Apple could make USB-C standard on all new iPhones or just those sold in the EU.
The first option was the most likely, says Michael Cowling, an IT expert at Central Queensland University.
The situation is similar to 5G a few years ago, when different countries had different standards, said Dr. cowling.
“Initially they had slightly different phones for different markets, but as soon as they could have universal 5G phone chargers, they did.”
For Apple, a global standard means more streamlined supply chains.
So the rule change in Europe means the iPhones sold in Australia will likely also have USB-C.
“It will be cheaper to use USB-C everywhere,” said Dr. cowling.
This could affect the resale value of iPhones, he added.
“And probably upset people too.”
What is USB-C?
It is quickly becoming the standard charger for electronic devices.
Almost all Android smartphones now use USB-C charging, as do Apple’s MacBooks and iPads and many other new laptops.
IT pro Peter Saville said USB-C ports were less likely to get “gummed” than Lightning ports.
“Many iPhone repairmen would tell you that gummed ports are the biggest failure rate other than cracked screens,” he said.
“USB-C can be cleaned up quite easily.”
What about my Lightning accessories?
If you want your Lightning connector earphones or other wired iPhone accessory to work with USB-C once you’ve upgraded your phone, you’ll have to pay another $20 for an adapter.
The same thing happened in 2012, when Apple introduced Lightning on its new iPhones, replacing the thicker Dock connector.
“Anyone who had accessories for a Dock connector had to switch to Lightning,” said Dr. cowling.
That’s particularly bad news for third-party iPhone accessory manufacturers.
“Unfortunately, the manufacturers of those accessories will have to sell their old accessories at a discount.”
What can I do with my old cables?
When it’s time to give the Lightning cable the old one, send it to Mobile Muster or drop it off at one of the non-profit recycling bins at electronics stores and cell phone repair shops.
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“There’s a lot of valuable material in there to use,” said Warren Overton, chief executive officer of the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP).
“We save more than a ton of carbon dioxide per ton of e-waste we recycle.”
He said a regular charger should “in theory” reduce e-waste.
“Having one universal charger will definitely make it easier for everyone.”
dr. Cowling predicts that Apple will soon ditch charging ports altogether.
“It will tell us all to go for wireless charging,” he said.
That would mean even more cables to be recycled.