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EU to impose universal phone charger, in blow to Apple

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The European Union announced on Thursday that it will impose a universal charger for smartphones, setting up a clash with Apple and its widely used iPhone.

The European Commission believes a standard cable for all devices will cut back on electronic waste, but Apple argues that a one-size-fits-all charger would slow innovation and create more pollution.

The bloc is home to 450 million people, some of the world’s richest consumers, and the imposition of the USB-C as a cable standard, once approved by member states and European Parliament, would affect the entire global smartphone market.

“European consumers have been frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers,” said EU executive vice president Margrethe Vestager in a statement.

“We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger,” she said.

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Consumers currently have to decide between phones served by three main chargers: “Lightning” for Apple handsets, the micro-USB widely used on most other mobile phones and the newer USB-C that is increasingly coming into use.

That range is already greatly simplified from 2009, when dozens of different types of chargers were bundled with mobile phones, creating piles of electronic garbage when users changed brands.

– ‘Inconvenient’ and wasteful –

The EU said the current situation remained “inconvenient” and that European consumers spent approximately 2.4 billion euros ($2.8 billion) annually on standalone chargers they bought separately.

Thierry Breton, the internal market commissioner also pushed back against the industry’s argument that innovation would be harmed.

He told reporters that US tech giants “are always making this argument, that (EU law) is against innovation … It is not against innovation. It is for European consumers, it is not against anyone.”

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Apple, which already uses USB-C connectors on some of its iPads and laptop computers, insists legislation to force a universal charger for all mobiles in the European Union is unwarranted.

“We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world,” Apple said.

– ‘Ample time’ to switch –

Some in the industry argue that phones already in use with a legacy charging cable will lose their resale value if it cannot be replaced, and add to the glut of digital waste.

The European Commission had long defended a voluntary agreement it made with the device industry that was set in place in 2009 and saw a big reduction in cables, but Apple refused to abide by it.

In the commission’s proposal, which could yet be considerably changed before ratification, smartphone makers will be given a 24-month transition period, giving “ample time” for companies to fall in line, the commission said.

Apple said that it believed the two-year transition period was a worry for the industry and too short to prevent the sale of existing equipment.

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EU consumer group ANEC cautiously welcomed the proposal but urged that the plan be expanded to wireless charging systems, which are increasingly being adopted by phonemakers.

“It is therefore important to avoid any fragmentation in this area as well,” the group said.

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