Apple is ditching its in-house iPhone charging plug and falling in line with the rest of the tech industry by adopting a more widely used connection standard, the USB-C plug. A big part of the reason is a European Union common charging rule that’s coming soon for the 27-nation bloc.
Here’s a look at the USB-C plug and what it means for consumers:
What is USB-C and how can I tell it apart from other plugs?
The first part of the acronym stands for Universal Serial Bus, and it replaces earlier versions of the USB cables used on everything from printers and hard drives to computer mice and Kindle readers.
The USB-C plug comes in a different shape than its predecessors—an elongated oval. It’s also symmetrical and reversible, which eliminates one of the common gripes about previous versions, like the rectangular USB-A connectors, because there’s no wrong way to plug it in.
What’s so great about USB-C?
USB-C cables can carry more power, so laptops can be charged faster, and they enable faster data transfer speeds, allowing a big trove of files to be copied from a computer to an external hard drive. At the same time, they can pump out a video signal to a monitor and supply power to connected accessories.
The USB-C connector is also designed to be future-proof. Its shape won’t change, but newer versions—and the devices they connect to—will come with upgraded capabilities. That means users will have to beware because older devices might not be able to support the latest specs.
It’s also slimmer than boxy USB-A plugs, making them a better fit for newer devices that keep getting smaller.
Why is Apple using it?
Apple has long championed its proprietary Lightning connector for iPhones, even though pretty much no one else uses it. It resisted the EU’s common charging push, citing worries that it would limit innovation and end up hurting consumers.
Apple held out even as others started adding USB-C connectors to their devices. But after the EU proposal won key approval last year, the U.S. tech giant gave in and didn’t look back.
A company executive unveiling the latest iPhone on Tuesday didn’t even mention the Lightning cable as she introduced its replacement.
“USB-C has become a universally accepted standard, so we’re bringing it to the iPhone 15,” said Kaiann Drance, vice president of iPhone product marketing.
She said USB-C has “been built into Apple products for years” and can now be used on MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, and AirPods.
What role did Europe play?
Apple’s shift is an example of how European Union regulations often end up rippling around the world—what’s known as the “Brussels effect”—as companies decide it’s easier to comply than make different products for different regions.
The EU spent more than a decade cajoling the tech industry into adopting a common charging standard. The push to impose rules for a uniform cable is part of the bloc’s wider effort to make products sold in the EU more sustainable and cut down on electronic waste.
The EU’s common charging rule won’t actually take effect until fall 2024. It covers phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld video game consoles, keyboards and mice, portable speakers, and navigation devices.
It also standardizes fast-charging technology and gives consumers the right to choose whether to buy new devices with or without a charger.