New iPhone proves: Brussels now determines what smartphones look like

New iPhone proves: Brussels now determines what smartphones look like

People who buy the latest iPhone may be surprised when they want to charge their phone. Because with a new iPhone you no longer get the charging cable that iPhone users are used to, the lightning cable, but a USB-C cable.

This is due to rules that the EU introduced. And with that, Brussels determines what your new iPhone will look like.

Apple unveiled its latest iPhones tonight: the iPhone 15, 15 Plus, 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. And for the first time in more than ten years, there is no lightning connection. That is not because Apple thought it was time to switch to USB-C, but because Brussels will make it mandatory for all smartphones from the end of 2024.

The tech giant is thus giving in to pressure from the European Union. Brussels introduced this rule – one connection for all smartphones and other small electronics – to save consumers money and reduce the amount of electronic waste. 

And now all iPhone buyers should carefully check whether their new cable fits in the charger they have at home. Whether they live in North America, Asia or Australia.

An unintended effect, says analyst Francisco Jeronimo of IDC, market researcher of the tech sector, who also emphasizes that Brussels is not interested in bullying Apple or iPhone owners on other continents. Because other manufacturers also have to believe it. They previously switched to USB-C as standard. 

All manufacturers must listen. Brussels is concerned about what is best for European consumers. And that affects the choices that tech companies make.

What does this mean for iPhone owners?

If you have an iPhone, you probably charge your phone with a cord and a charging pad. If that old charger doesn’t have a USB-C port, you can’t just use it with the cord that comes with the iPhone 15 series. 

You now have roughly three options: use a USB-C charger from another device, charge wirelessly with a so-called wireless Qi charger, or buy an adapter. 

There have been adapters on the market for some time that convert the lightning cable to USB-C. An extra attachment, so that your older chargers and accessories do not become useless. 

Years of meetings

It was decided last year that the USB-C cable will become the new mandatory connection in the EU . This was preceded by almost ten years of meetings and negotiations. These rules require new smartphones, but also tablets, earbuds and e-readers, to have a USB-C port.

The rules will apply from 2024 – the rules for laptops will come into effect later. The idea is that this will reduce the need for consumers to buy new cables and plugs. According to the EU, European consumers buy 250 million euros worth of chargers per year. 

In addition, USB-C is faster than lightning, both in charging and sending data from an iPhone to another device.

Why did Apple resist this for so long?

Apple and Brussels have long disagreed about the desire to switch to USB-C. Apple says the rules hold back innovation and are inconvenient for consumers, rendering many of their cables useless overnight.

If it had been up to Apple, they would have continued with their ‘old’ lightning cable for a while. This left the company in control of how they make devices and what they look like.

Moreover: Apple also makes money from the lightning cable. Both by selling their own cables and accessories from other manufacturers. Because if they want to use the lightning port, they have to buy a license from Apple.

According to Apple, reducing electronic waste had already been largely solved with the arrival of chargers that do not have a cable attached. But rules are rules, even for Apple. “It’s clear we have to stick to it,” an Apple marketing executive said last year . “We have no choice.”

No separate telephone for EU

Apple could also have complied with the rules by only offering a USB-C port in the EU. But analyst Jeronimo estimated in advance that the chance that Apple would do that was very low.

“That doesn’t make sense at all. Not even in terms of how they make the iPhones,” he says. Then Apple would have had to set up a separate production process, especially for phones for the European market. “I don’t see any benefit in doing that. Plus, most users are global users and USB-C will become the standard anyway.”

EU accounts for a quarter of turnover

Ignoring the rules and ignoring Europe is also unthinkable. Brussels can use the European market as leverage. Ignoring that market would be economic suicide, according to analysts. Apple can’t afford that.

A quarter ($95 billion) of the total annual turnover ($394 billion) comes from the European Union. This makes it the second most important market for the iPhone maker. Only in its home market America are more Apple products and services sold.

In many countries, iPhones are even the best-selling phones, says analyst Jeronimo.

The content must also be respected

Brussels also interferes with what happens on your phone. In recent months, two important European tech laws came into effect. The laws are intended to prevent abuse of power by large (tech) companies, give people more freedom of choice and better protect them online.

And as a result, Apple and Google, among others, have to make changes that will make your phone work slightly differently.

For example, you can now only install apps on your iPhone via the App Store. That has to change, says Brussels. And you should also be able to send messages from certain messaging services such as WhatsApp to, for example, Telegram or Signal.

EU must not go too far

Regulation and enforcement in the EU is closely followed by tech companies and politicians and legislators in other countries, such as the United States. If they want to operate in Europe, they must adhere to strict European rules. 

And because the European market is so large – and so economically interesting – it is difficult to ignore. Yet Brussels must be careful that it does not catch on, says Menno Weij, lawyer at BDO Legal.

Europe has power, but the downside is over-regulation. They have to keep an eye on the balance, because it could also be the case that big players find it too much of a hassle and leave Europe.

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