EU Adopts Law Requiring Universal USB-C Phone Chargers by 2024

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read
Close up of Lightning (left) vs. USB-C (right) connectors.

USB-C will become the common charger in Europe.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's happening

The European Parliament has adopted a law making USB-C charging mandatory on phones and other small devices by 2024.

Why it matters

The law is designed to reduce electronic waste and allow people to shop for tech more sustainably. It will also force Apple -- one of the few phone makers to resist adopting USB-C -- to finally get rid of Lightning ports on the iPhone, at least in Europe.

What's next

Tech companies now have well over a year to ensure they're complying with the new rules. Most already use USB-C, so all eyes will be firmly fixed on Apple.

It looks like the Lightning cable's days are numbered -- in Europe at least. The European Parliament passed a long-awaited law on Tuesday requiring that by 2024 all phones must be compatible with a universal charger. And the tech that will rule them all is USB-C.

Establishing a rule around a common charger has been in the works now for 10 years, but the EU only finalized the legislation in June. In Tuesday's vote, members of the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of the rule, with 602 votes in favor, 13 against and 8 abstentions. The law will apply not only to phones, but also to tablets, digital cameras, headphones, handheld consoles and most other small devices. Starting in spring 2026, the law will also apply to laptops.

The idea behind the legislation is to reduce the amount of electronic waste the tech industry generates and help people make more sustainable choices. That means finally saying goodbye to that drawer full of mystery, proprietary charging cables and instead trusting that whatever device you buy, you'll always be able to use USB-C. As part of the new rules, buyers will be able to choose whether their new device comes with a charging cable.

"This future-proof law allows for the development of innovative charging solutions in the future, and it will benefit everyone -- from frustrated consumers to our vulnerable environment," Alex Agius Saliba, the Parliament's rapporteur said in a statement.

Watch this: Apple Will Have to Add USB-C to iPhones Because of This Legislation

Most tech companies have already adopted USB-C as a standard charger. Apple is one notable exception. But starting in 2024, at least in Europe, Apple will have no choice but to make iPhones USB-C compatible. Due to the complexity of manufacturing different phones for different markets, it's highly possible that the new law may force Apple's hand and mean that USB-C also becomes the standard on iPhones everywhere.

We've already heard that Apple has reportedly been testing iPhones with USB-C, but there are some suggestions that the company's ideal solution would be to rely totally on wireless charging, with no ports on the iPhone at all. There are arguments both in favor of and against this approach, but it could ultimately be determined by what the law requires rather than what Apple wants. Apple didn't immediately respond to request for comment.

There are still several steps in the EU legislative process that need to take place before the law finally kicks in. But at this stage, those are largely a formality. The 2024 deadline gives tech companies everywhere over a year to adapt to the new law. Right now, it's Apple's move.

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