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USB-C Charging to Be Mandatory on All Phones Sold in Europe by Fall 2024

A USB-C cable connector
One charger to rule them all.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

What's happening

EU lawmakers reach an agreement to make USB-C charging mandatory on all phones and other small- and medium-sized devices by 2024.

Why it matters

The legislation could force Apple to abandon Lightning ports on iPhones in favor of USB-C -- and not just in Europe.

We all know the frustration of a low phone battery when there's nobody around with the right charging cable. In a bid to reduce hassle for consumers and to curb excess electronic waste, the European Union plans to introduce a common mandatory phone charger that people can use across all their small- and medium-sized devices. 

The charging tech it has chosen? USB-C.

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EU lawmakers reached a deal on Tuesday that will make USB-C the mandatory universal charger for phones by fall 2024. Not only will the rule apply to phones but also to tablets, headphones, e-readers, portable speakers, handheld games consoles and digital cameras. At a later date, it will apply to laptops too. 

The agreement stipulates that fast charging speeds must be harmonized, so that people can expect to charge their devices at the same speed regardless of the charger they use. In addition, the legislation will let people choose whether to buy devices with or without a bundled charger, allowing them to avoid unnecessary accessories if they already have a drawer full of USB-C chargers at home.

"European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device," European Parliament Rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said in a statement. "Now they will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics."

Most tech companies already use USB-C chargers for the majority of their small- and medium-sized tech, so they'll be largely unaffected when the rules come into force. 

One major exception is Apple, which uses a Lightning connector to charge iPhones and has reintroduced MagSafe chargers to its latest generation of MacBooks. The new EU legislation will force Apple to change its charging technology. And when Apple does so, the change is unlikely to affect only products sold in Europe.

Apple has argued against the idea of a common phone charger, saying that the move could stifle innovation and cause more waste if people are forced to abandon their Lightning cables. In spite of this resistance, a report by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in May suggested that Apple is preparing for all iPhones to use USB-C charging within one to two years. This could even improve transfer and charging speeds, said Kuo.

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment on the EU's agreement.

The EU's bid to introduce a universal charger has been a decade in the making and, according to internal estimates, will save European consumers up to 250 million euros ($267 million) per year. The EU also estimates that disposed-of and unused chargers represent about 11,000 tons of e-waste annually. It's hoping the new legislation will drastically reduce this figure, helping to make the consumer tech industry more sustainable, ahead of what it predicts will be an eventual move to universal wireless charging.