The EU’s dull-ass fight with Apple over the Lightning connector sucks



It looks like the day is coming ever closer: Apple and the EU are going to head out to the car park, strip down to the waist, and get into a good, old-fashioned fist fight.

Rather than this being about dull things like “paying the proper amount of taxes,” or “having the right-to-repair my goddamn phone,” this is about something far, far more important: Mobile phone charging cables. Specifically, Apple’s Lightning connector.

This topic has been floating around for some time, but a leaked report — seen and covered by the FT today — has confirmed that the European Commission will call for “the creation of a common EU smartphone charger” in the third quarter of 2019.

[Read this, friend: The single glass sheet iMac patent gives me hope Apple will focus on design again]

Basically, as most major manufacturers of smartphones already use USB-C connectors, this can be viewed as an attack on Apple and its Lightning connector.

And you know what? Much of this dull-ass argument sucks.

So why does the EU want to beat the Lightning connector to a bloody pulp and standarize phone chargers?

There are two main reasons. The first is to make life easier for people. This means it’ll be easier to find charging cables, and you won’t have to carry so many around. Definitely what I’d call a Good Thing.

The second is environmental. The EU believes that by people only having a single cable for phones, there’ll be less overall waste — another Good Thing.

Both of these points do make a certain amount of sense, and, as a user of both Apple and Android devices, it would make my life easier. It all seems good so far, right?

And what does Apple think about this?

They’ve accepted the possibility of being forced to drop the Lightning connector with grace, decorum, and good… nah, I can’t keep this going.

Apple‘s fucking furious.

A statement the company put out last week said that the EU‘s move would “[stifle] innovation,” and “would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole.” It then points out that there are over a billion Apple devices with Lightning connectors in the wild, going onto say that this change would create a huge amount of waste if implemented. You know, effectively doing the opposite of what the EU want.

Again, I can see where Apple‘s coming from. What’s going to happen to the billion-plus Lightning connector cables out there currently?

Also, the innovation stand-point is interesting. What if a company designs a type of connection that allows faster data-transfer than USB-C? Something that’s more versatile? Or has different uses? I mean, it seems unlikely, but it is possible. This move would effectively end that chance.

So… who should we support?

To be honest, neither. Both of them are wrong. And both of them suck.

Let’s begin with the EU. Here’s a question: Does anyone really care about standardizing charging cables?

Yeah, this would’ve been amazing about a decade ago, but these days the majority of phone manufacturers only use three charging ports. Most phone makers use USB-C. A few others use micro-USB. And Apple uses the Lightning connector.

This really isn’t a pressing issue. In fact, I’d be far happier if the EU was doing more to, say, reduce the cost of screen replacements, or encourage companies to make their devices functional for longer (AKA eradicate any traces of planned obsolescence). I admire the energy of them trying to make the world a better place, but there are more important things out there for the EU to be focusing on. This just feels a little like a personal vendetta.

But don’t let that make you think I’m a fan of Apple‘s approach either.

The Lightning connector is just a money-maker. Nothing more, nothing less. Apple makes tons of cash selling things like cables, accessories, and headphone adaptors. The reason Apple is so pissy is this move would see them lose millions and millions to third-party accessory and cable providers.

And does anyone really think Apple cares about the environment? Sure, people having to throw away their old Lightning connector cables might have some impact, but not having easily replaceable batteries in iPhones makes a far bigger one.

At the end of the day, I guess the EU is trying to help the common person, so they get the edge in this battle, but still… meh. Neither party comes out of this looking particularly great or in touch with the public. But I guess this is what modern life is: Watching big organizations engage in dull-ass fights and forcing us to decide which one of them sucks less.

Truly, a golden age.

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Published January 28, 2020 — 13:52 UTC





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