Enforcing USB-C in Europe: Why that ultimately wouldn't be such a good idea – Frandroid

The European Union has decided: USB-C will be the mandatory connection for electronic devices. While this standardization is convenient, it has more complex implications.

Enforcing USB C in Europe Why that ultimately wouldn39t be suchApple iPhone 15 Pro // Source: Frandroid

Europe recently mandated the use of USB Type-C for a variety of electronic devices, pushing giants like Apple to review their ports (including the iPhone 15). This European directive includes the vision that a universal charger can power phones, tablets, computers and other low-power devices. There are two main arguments behind this ambition: the convenience of a single charging standard and the environmental benefit associated with reducing e-waste. However, this standardization does not come without criticism.

A member of the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the organization responsible for the development of USB, expressed on X (Twitter) a number of reservations about this forced standardization. What is he criticizing the European Union for? Different things.

He emphasizes that the forced switch to USB Type-C and its specific power delivery format could not only increase e-waste and costs for consumers, but also make the use of cables unnecessarily difficult.

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Comfort is not provided

From a practical point of view, yes. The EU’s requirement to switch to USB-C and its specific version of Power Delivery could also mean a possible limitation in interoperability with older devices.

According to the USB-IF member, USB-C’s promise of convenience is put into perspective by the underlying complexity of the technology. In theory, a single type of connector for all devices promises revolutionary simplicity. In practice, the variety of USB-C specifications and power delivery features can be confusing.

No, not all USB-C cables are the same : Some support certain data transfer speeds or charging levels, others do not. This disparity could result in unexpected complexity for the end user who must understand and select the right cable for each device and use, negating the promise of a simplified user experience.

Remember that USB Type-C is a connection, not a standard. We can run USB 2.0, USB 3.1 or USB 3.2 or USB 4 with a Type-C port. Everything is backwards compatible, but no standard is specified (Thunderbolt 4 also works with identical connectivity). Additionally, the European Commission states that only the USB Type-C socket is required, meaning manufacturers can offer a USB 2.0 cable limited to charging without the option of fast file transfer.

Double-edged progress

USB-C is considered the future of connectivity, but this choice could change, according to the USB-IF expert Set boundaries for future innovation. By fixating innovation on a single technology, the EU could hinder the development of new, potentially more efficient compounds.

The historical example of the transition from Micro-USB to Lightning and then to USB-C shows that innovation is often the result of diversity and competition rather than standardization. The risk therefore lies in slowing the emergence of more advanced technologies that could offer significant improvements in speed, efficiency or functionality.

We can even ask ourselves a question: if Micro-USB had been introduced, would Lightning and USB Type-C have appeared? Not so sure.

An ecological solution in question

In his opinion, from an environmental perspective, the introduction of USB-C represents an unexpected complexity. The aim of standardization is to reduce electronic waste by limiting the distribution of different types of cables and chargers.

However, the USB-IF expert points out that the reality could be less green. Due to the complexity and diverse possibilities of USB-C cables, not all of them are interchangeablewhich could actually lead to an increase in e-waste.

To understand the environmental criticism of USB-C raised by the USB-IF member, we need to consider the internal structure of the cables and connectors. Older cables such as Micro-B or DC power jacks are relatively simple: they typically contain two wires, one for plus and one for minus, and perhaps a small number of additional wires for data transfer. This simplicity means fewer materials, easier manufacturing and therefore a lower environmental impact.

On the other hand, A USB-C cable contains about a dozen wires and many additional metal contacts to support its various functions : not just charging and data transfer, but also features like video output and audio, not to mention the more complex power management enabled by Power Delivery. Each additional thread represents additional material and energy resources for manufacturing. Additionally, the increased complexity makes recycling more difficult and costly, increasing the cable’s environmental footprint.

It’s not all negative

The expert emphasizes that there are still positive aspects, especially the phenomenonUnbundling. Unbundling is the sale of electronic devices without an included charger, known as an External Power Supply (EPS). Overall, this approach is viewed as positive progress for several reasons.

1703588899 782 Enforcing USB C in Europe Why that ultimately wouldn39t be such

First, unbundling helps reduce e-waste. If consumers accumulate chargers every time they purchase a new device, many will end up with an oversupply of similar chargers, contributing to e-waste. By decoupling the sale of chargers from devices, users can reuse chargers they already own, reducing the overall number of chargers produced and potentially thrown away.

In addition, this practice promotes the standardization of chargers for different devices. When consumers can use the same charger for multiple devices, there is less need to purchase specific chargers for each device. This underlines the goal of standardizing connectors and reducing waste, in line with the goals of USB-C. Finally, unbundling can also have economic benefits for consumers. Not having to pay for a new charger every time you purchase a device can help reduce overall costs, especially for those who already have compatible chargers at home.

And wireless charging?

However, wireless charging not regulated by the current European USB-C directivenaturally approaches the Qi standard adopted by most manufacturers, including Apple (which was also the first to use Qi 2).

The European Commission is keeping an eye on all this and could one day add wireless charging to the rules, but for now it prefers to let companies innovate.