Apple has given its arm to twist. He has finally jumped on the universal charging connector bandwagon with the new iPhone 15. It was a decision that he was going to have to make, sooner or later, if he wanted to comply with the regulations in Europe: the European Parliament approved in October 2022 that this port will be mandatory for mobile phones and other devices in Europe from December 28, 2024.
Why does the European Union require the universal charging connector?
Discarded and unused chargers represent around 11,000 tonnes of waste per year in the European Union. This is what it indicates the European Parliament, which highlights that this new regulation aims to reduce electronic waste: “Consumers will no longer need a different charger each time they buy a new device, since they will be able to use a single charger for a whole range of small and medium-sized portable electronic devices” . With it, it also seeks to eliminate “the so-called technological lock-in effect, by which a consumer becomes dependent on a single manufacturer.”
What did Apple gain by keeping the Lightning port on iPhones?
The iPhone 5 debuted the Lightning port in 2012, a proprietary development that has been amortized for more than 10 years. “Its main advantages, especially if we consider that it was introduced in that year and compared to the USB alternatives of that time, were its compact and minimalist size, its durability and the fact that it is reversible (you do not have to connect it in a specific orientation)” , comments Fernando Suárez, president of the General Council of Official Colleges of Computer Engineering (CCII).
Although the technology company began the transition to USB-C on its computers in 2015 and on its iPads in 2018, until now it had resisted bringing it to iPhones. “We will abide by the regulations, we have no choice,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s chief marketing officer, in an interview published in October 2022 in The Wall Street Journal.
Kewin Charron, senior manager of overhaul operations at Back Market, explains that the apple company has opted for Lightning throughout all these years to keep accessory manufacturers and consumers in its ecosystem. “Apple differentiated itself from phones from other brands by maintaining this port,” emphasizes Francisca Pérez, director of the Computer Engineering degree at the Saint George University. The expert, who is also a teacher of the master’s degree in advanced software technologies for mobile devices, says that this port was a good source of income for Apple from the sale of cables or other compatible accessories.
Can we charge the new iPhones with the same cable and charger that Android phones use?
“In principle, compatibility should be total, as long as it is a modern charger and has enough power for it,” says Suárez. The loading speed may vary from one to another. Charron explains that fast charging may be limited depending on the standard used by the cable manufacturer, and advises using cable and charger with Power Delivery certification (the standard that allows power delivery to devices), to perform fast charging and avoid problems: an uncertified cable or charger can cause slow or inadequate charging, damaging the battery or burning out the device’s circuits. To protect users from harmful chargers and cyber attacks through the new connector, the consortium USB-IF implemented its own certification in 2019.
With the same charger and USB-C cable as the mobile phone, can we also charge the tablet and computer?
At the presentation of the iPhone 15, Apple assured that the same cable will be able to charge a Mac, an iPad, an iPhone and even the second generation AirPods Pro, which have also been updated and have a case with a USB-C port. But Charron advises being careful with the power of the charger, since tablets and laptops require chargers with more power.
According to the account, a user can charge their phone with the laptop’s USB-C charger (the charger will adapt itself), but they cannot charge their computer with a mobile charger (or it may charge, but very slowly). Francisca Pérez advises to always check the power of the charger: “To charge the phone or tablet, a charger between 20 and 35 watts would be adequate. While, for a laptop, a charger greater than 70 watts would be preferable, which allows the battery to be charged faster and, in addition, supports the energy consumption of the computer while it is used.”
What is missing for the universal charging system to become a reality?
“There is progress towards standardization, especially in the European Union, and this is just one example,” says Fernando Suárez. But the expert emphasizes that it is not only about the connection interface, but also about communication speeds and power for recharging. “By this I mean that ports that include cars or airplanes today may also be left behind in terms of capacity in the coming years,” he maintains.
As Pérez highlights, a transition period is occurring in which some charging points have the old USB port (type A) and others the new one (type C). “It is possible that just carrying the new USB-C cable will not be possible to charge the phone if you travel on an older plane.” Furthermore, when connecting the mobile phone to a USB port in airports, subway stations, buses, libraries, hotels or cafes, extreme caution must be taken, according to Suárez: “Data can also be transmitted through USB (not just electrical charge) and it is used in occasions to spread malware or to steal information.”
What happens now to the old Lightning cables and accessories?
When Apple debuted the Lightning port in 2012, this measure also left millions of cables and accessories (that used the previous connector, released with iPods) obsolete. Something similar could now happen to your customers who buy an iPhone 15. This problem not only affects the charging cables, but also other devices such as speaker and headphone docks. To alleviate the problem and keep existing Lightning cables and accessories in use with the new iPhones, Apple launched a USB-C adapter to Lightning connector, which costs 35 euros and works for any iPhone or iPad with the universal port. It would also be necessary reverse adapter, to be able to use a universal charger with phones, keyboards and mice that still have a Lightning port.
What impact will this measure have on the environment?
When Apple was reluctant to abandon Lightning, it argued that this regulation would force its customers to change cables and would generate “a lot of electronic waste.” Mario Barrosassistant professor in the Department of Architecture, Design and Media Technology at Aalborg University (Denmark), explains that this argument “can be countered by the advantages of using a universal standard that many Apple users could already be using.”
For Daniel Guzzoa postdoctoral researcher at the Technical University of Denmark who has studied the sustainability impacts of European Commission Circular Economy Action Plan, it is very important that a market leader like Apple has taken this measure: “That the same charger can be used on all devices means that each user needs fewer chargers.” The expert states that the fact that some cables are discarded “should not overshadow the possible positive impacts of the common charger initiative” and insists that the majority of homes already have a USB-C charger.
The USB-C port is present on the latest iPads and MacBooks, in addition to “almost all modern devices,” according to Barros: “From Android phones to Windows laptops, game consoles or headphones.” “This increases the possibility that many Apple users already have some spare USB-C cables lying around,” says the expert, who studies the role of design in the transition towards a more sustainable product consumption style.
What should you look for when using a USB-C cable and why are they not all the same?
It is important to distinguish the type of connector (in this case USB-C) and the data transmission standards through the cables, according to Suárez. “As for cables, the current standard is USB 3 and what it indicates is the speed at which data can be transferred through said cable,” he says. Therefore, he advises making sure you meet this standard to get the most out of it. But he warns: “Even meeting the standard, the qualities can vary substantially depending on the elements with which they are manufactured.”
How does the change affect data transfer?
Before the presentation of the iPhone, John Gruber, a renowned Apple product analyst, pointed out that beyond the convenience of sharing a connector with any other next-generation mobile phone, USB-C will only be a great advantage for professional users. who use the phone as an ultra high definition camcorder. The reason is that the universal connector allows a much higher transmission speed than Lightning, when you want to transfer files via cable from the mobile phone to the computer (for example, for video post-production) or use the iPhone 15 Pro to record 4K video directly to an external hard drive. Completing the transition to USB-C was essential to be able to offer these functions to iPhone users, regardless of the fact that the European Union has required the universal connector by law.
The iPhone 15 Pro has a data transfer speed 20 times faster than the base models. And, in the case of the iPhone 15 and the iPhone 15 Plus, the USB-C connector maintains the same USB 2 interface inside that the iPhone 14 and earlier had, with the old connector. “This is a Lightning port disguised as USB-C,” he indicates in his analysis of the new iPhone the portal specialized in technology Xataka.