What does Apple risk if it doesn’t integrate USB-C on its iPhones?

What penalties could Apple face if it decides not to include a USB-C port in its iPhones and AirPods by the end of 2024, as requested by the European Union? We put the question to one of the case managers.

Source: Lucian Alexe on Unsplash

A priori, Apple iPhones must have a USB-C port from 2024. This is the key point that we retain from the recently reached agreement in principle between the European Parliament (where MEPs sit) and the European Council (representing the EU Member State governments). The two companies have thus expressed their desire to make USB Type-C the mandatory universal wired charging standard for all small and medium-sized electronic devices. Smartphones, headphone cases, audio headsets, tablets or even laptops are affected (with a slightly later implementation for the latter).

Parliament and Council have agreed to meet at the beginning of the school year to formally adopt this law so that it can be applied from autumn 2024. Except in the event of force majeure this summer, this project can bring everything to a halt with confidence.

There are already a variety of devices with a USB-C port. This new law will therefore not change much for most manufacturers. Conversely, in Apple’s case, the entry-level iPhone and AirPods and iPad have yet to take the plunge and are clinging to their proprietary Lightning connectors.

Render iphone 14 pro cc
The iPhone 14 Pro will be released in 2022 and is therefore not affected by the new measure // Source: Pigtou and xleaks7

Therefore, several scenarios are conceivable. So, some can imagine that the Cupertino-based company will not comply with the rules imposed by the European Union and will resist in one way or another. With that in mind, what does Apple risk if it happens to decide not to include a USB-C port on its iPhones?

Does Apple have so much to lose here?

Frandroid put the question to the office of Alex Aguis Saliba, the Parliament rapporteur who is following this dossier. We wanted to know what sanctions are foreseen against a manufacturer who does not comply with this obligation for the USB-C connector in Europe. From the beginning we are told that “financial sanctions fall outside the scope of the proposed and agreed measures“. This means that if Apple starts a standoff with the EU, the company will not be fined, contrary to what we have already seen in cases of anti-competitive practices.

In contrast, “The new provisions are part of an overhaul of the RED Policy, and any breach of the policy’s rules will follow the provisions and steps already set out therein“. What is it about ? This famous RED directive (PDF file) concerns the placing on the European market of radio devices. A smartphone, for example, must comply with a set of rules in order to be allowed to be sold there. In this context, every officially sold tech -Product affixed a “CE” mark, proving that it meets the conditions imposed by the EU The directive refers to a “cvisible consequence of an overall process including the conformity assessment in the broader sense“.

CE marking ok
Image of the CE marking // Source: MatthiasDD (via Wikimedia Commons)

It should be borne in mind that the European legislator prefers to sanction upstream rather than downstream. Instead of letting Apple sell non-compliant products and then imposing financial sanctions, the EU will simply block the brand from selling its iPhones and AirPods in affected countries if the latter keep their Lightning connector at the expense of USB-C. They simply aren’t entitled to the mandatory “CE” marking.

How about a wireless iPhone?

There remains one more avenue to explore. It’s not out of the question that Apple will opt for iPhones and AirPods that charge only wirelessly and therefore without a wired charging port. Even if it is difficult to judge their credibility today, this hypothesis remains plausible. In this way, Apple products would comply with the new regulations, which only apply to devices that can be charged via cable.

AirPods 3 can be charged with an induction base
The AirPods 3 have a Lightning connector, but can already be charged via induction base // Source: Frandroid

However, the European Commission (whose job it is to enforce the law) is tasked with “Call on European standardization organizations to develop appropriate standards as wireless technologies evolve.», reminds us of Alex Aguis Saliba’s cabinet. It must fulfill this task 24 months after the USB-C directive came into force. The entry into force 20 days after the publication of the legal text in the Official Gazette (at the beginning of the school year 2022) means that this mission will also start in autumn 2024.

It remains to be seen how long these standards will take to develop and whether they could undermine a potential 100% wireless iPhone.

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