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Apple says a common charger would handicap innovation, inflate waste

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Apple has hit back at new proposals by European lawmakers to force smartphone and other device producers to use a universal standard charger, claiming attempts to make it switch from Lightning to another type of connection could cause consumer aggravation and stifle innovation.

On January 13, the European Commission and the European Parliament reignited plans to reduce the amount of electronic waste generated by unwanted chargers, by making device producers use the same connections. The decade-old idea that has repeatedly resurfacedhad the intention to cut the number of connections to devices down, and after some urging, vendors are now largely down to using a few versions of USB, and in Apple's case, Lightning.

The recent discussions suggested further pressure could be applied to make the use of a common charger more widespread. "We will look at a combination of policy options, including regulatory and non-regulatory measures to achieve our objectives," said EC inter-institutional relations and foresight vice president Maros Sefcovic, proposing it would be convenient to consumers and minimize electronic waste.

Following a flood of reports accusing Europe of forcing Apple to migrate from Lightning, the iPhone maker has issued its first statement on the matter, reports the Financial Times. Eliminating Lightning, it believes, would cause inconvenience to hundreds of millions of consumers, as well as producing an "unprecedented volume" of electronic waste in the process of moving over to another connection.

"We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphone stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole," Apple wrote. "We hope the Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry's ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to customers."

Apple also commissioned a study by Copenhagen Electronics in December about connectors, and determined that 49% of households use different connector types, but only 0.4% report they "regularly experience any significant issue" with charging devices due to incompatibilities.

For electronic waste, Apple argues the wide number of accessories that use Lightning connections, including in-car adapters and speakers with docking facilities, would be added to the trash pile because of the connector.

It is arguable that Apple has already primed the pump for a changeover to USB-C, as it has done so for the iPad Pro lineup. However, reports about such a change for the iPhone 11 and other models were cut down, supposedly due to a need to avoid antagonizing customers, and to minimize costs.

By switching to a single industry-wide connection, regulatory rules forcing the use of one connection could arguably make it harder to develop a new version that everyone can agree to use, but this doubt has been dismissed by the Commission. "Any better-performing new charging solution would be welcome as long as it is a common charging solution," said Sefcovic.