EU Approves Universal Smartphone Charger Standard

| News

The European Union’s regulatory authorities at the European Commission announced Thursday the approval of a universal standard for smartphone chargers sold in Europe. The standard was developed with cooperation and backing from fourteen of the top handset manufacturers, including Nokia, Research In Motion, Apple and Samsung, according to the BBC.

The intention of setting up a standard for smartphone chargers is to eliminate the need to have new chargers provided with each phone, and to make existing chargers interoperable. This will reduce e-waste, and could conceivably reduce costs to consumers. Failing that, it will increase profits for some corporate entity or another.

The standard effectively resolves to the micro USB protocol — that’s the tiniest of the USB ports that are most often found in digital cameras, some cell phones, and other small devices.

This, of course, begs the question of how Apple will implement this standard on iPhone and other iOS devices. The company currently uses its “Dock” connector, and has used that connector to help control who and what is licensed to make third party products that connect to Apple’s devices through its MFi licensing program.

Apple controls the the technology and patents pertaining to its Dock, and thus it can control who uses it. If the company were to institute some open standard like micro USB all willy nilly, it could lose some of that control over licensing. That Apple signed off on the new standard, however, suggests that the company has a plan to meet this new charger standard while preserving data connection to its devices.

For instance, adding a micro USB port for charging while limiting data pass-through (with or without — but probably with, because requiring two cables to connect and charge is so inelegant and un-Stevelike — charging capabilities) to its Dock connector would fit the bill nicely.

Apple isn’t talking yet, but the European Commission said the first phones to adhere to the new standard will be appearing in early 2011. Apple’s next iPhone update is expected in the Summer, but the next iPad update is expected in late Spring. Should the company be planning to use the smartphone standard for all its devices to keep them interchangeable like they are today, Apple could begin the conversion process at any time.

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Comments

1stplacemacuser

I suspect all syncing will be done wirelessly and the port will be used just for recharging the battery.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

The EU must have some precious dirt on El Steve-o. Or perhaps Steve has a trick up his sleeve, like no longer claiming the iPhone is a smartphone.

1stplacemacuser

I personally like the idea, because I might be at a friend’s home, who might use a blackberry or an android.  I don’t have to worry about not being able to charge my phone because I didn’t bring my charger with me.  Just plug into a generic one that my friend might have and voila!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@1stplacemacuser: If your friend has a recent BlackBerry or Android phone, they already have micro-USB power. You could get a phone that works with their chargers grin.

1stplacemacuser

My iPhone is not micro-USB powered (unless I get an adaptor or something) and my friend is hypothetical.  I don’t know what my friend(s) are using, recent or ancient Blackberries or Androids (or Treos!)

d'nomder

Apple’s micro USB implementation would certainly be charge-only, unless the specification also calls for comm/sync.

And I think some folks finally agreeing on a charger standard is a good thing.  After, oh, 40 years of nearly every gadget having its own proprietary charger, a standard on one device class is very welcome. smile

Lee Dronick

Am interpreting the story/law correctly in that the charger is specified to be micro USB, but it doesn’t say that the phone must take that plug? it also doesn’t say that synch must be done via micro USB. Now bear with me. Could Apple supply a micro USB to dock converter so that you can charge the device using the standard charger cable, but still need a dock cable to synch.

I may be incorrect about understanding the law.

Terrin

I don’t think so. The EU’s concern is the consumer every time he or she changes a phone needs a different kind of charger. The reality is lots of companies come up with these fancy chargers just so consumers have to buy an expensive charger right from them. This often puts a consumer in a pickle if he or she can’t find a charger or if the manufacturer stops making them to phase out older phones. The behavior is anti-competitive because a charger generally only has two wires and incorporating different connectors to those two wires is strictly to thwart competition.

What you suggest would seemingly undermine the purpose of the law because you’d still need to have something special from Apple to be able to power up the device. The EU wants a single charging standard so a consumer isn’t relying on a single manufacturer to supply replacement power cords.

The EU’s concern only involves power connectors, not data. I think Apple will comply by either keeping the current dock connector and add an additional USB connector strictly for power, or abandon the dock altogether and go to USB in the future when this would take effect.

I suspect you will see Apple’s solution with the updated iPads, which are rumored to have a mini USB connection in addition to a Dock connector. Many assume this would be for printing, but it can also be for charging as well. Apple can still maintain the Dock for syncing and an additional means to charge.

Could Apple supply a micro USB to dock converter so that you can charge the device using the standard charger cable, but still need a dock cable to synch.

PugetBill

An adapter cable satisfies the requirement.  There is no need for Apple to abandon the 30 pin connector (or add an additional microUSB connector) to be able to support the new universal chargers.  Smartphones must only be charge-able via the universal chargers to be compliant.  Apple could simply provide a 30-pin-Apple-connector-to-microUSB connector cable / adapter.  That is assuming I am reading paragraph 4.2.1 of the original 2009 June 5 MoU (Memo of Understanding) correctly, “...4.2.1 In order that compatibility of as many Mobile Phones as possible with a Common EPS may be enabled, if a manufacturer makes available an Adaptor from the Micro-USB connector of a Common EPS [External Poswer Supply] to a specific non-Micro-USB socket in the Mobile Phone, it shall constitute compliance to this article.”

Lee Dronick

An adapter cable satisfies the requirement.?


Thanks Bill. I was just thinking out loud when I made that post.

However, being able to charge an iPhone via micro USB without an adaptor would be a plus. Who knows what tricks Apple has up its sleeves to make the phone comply, we could see dual ports on an future iPhone.

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