One Charger to Rule Them All

Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD



At the time I am writing I write this, the EU is announcing that it is revising the Radio Equipment Directive to harmonize charging port and fast charging technology: USB-C will become the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles in the common market. The organisation claims that previous attempts at harmonisation have brought down the number of different charging standards from 30 to 3 in the last ten years and now it wants to go the extra mile and get that figure down to one, namely USB-C. The only mainstream consumer manufacturer that has not standardised on the USB-C connector for portable equipment is Apple, which is ironic, as the company was the first to announce the inclusion of a USB-C charger in its MacBook range of laptops, which gave the standard the boost it needed to start gaining widespread adoption.

Since then, Apple has used USB-C in some devices and its proprietary lightning connector in others. It now claims that the new EU legislation will stifle innovation. Personally I think this is only partly true. Another part of the same EU legislation will unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices. Apple, Samsung and others have already started selling devices without chargers in the box, which has led to a host of third party manufacturers developing their own USB-C adaptors. To make those adaptors stand out, the manufacturers are looking to innovate in reducing the size of the charger and adding features. To assist those manufacturers, power companies are also innovating to develop new chips that offer more integration and higher density. From that perspective, there has probably never been more innovation in the market since the flurry of new devices around its launch.

However, the question remains whether the EU should get involved at all, especially after its initial legislation was so successful in reducing the number of different charging technologies. Getting rid of 27 different charging technologies is no small thing, but you would imagine after that the returns would be diminished quite considerably. Also, with the advancements in storage and higher battery densities, the industry was probably going to converge on a smaller number of charging standards. As for the EU’s excuse to take action, e-waste is becoming more and more of a problem, not just for developed nations with poisonous chemicals leaking from e-waste in landfills, but it also affects developing ones. Much of the electrical waste we generate is sent to poorer countries to be recycles, often in dangerous conditions. For example, in many places the e-waste is burned in a barrel to release the metals. This type of recycling gives off toxic smoke, which can affect the workers, many of whom are children. From that perspective, anything we can do to stop the practice is a bonus. However, I feel like disposable consumer goods is more of a problem that chargers right now.