EU Approves Universal Smartphone Charger Standard

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.