Thursday, October 21, 2021

The reason the EU forces Apple to adopt USB-C would be a bad thing

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The European Union is making another push to force Apple to adopt the USB-C standard in its iPhones, this time using legislation.

The proposal itself hasn’t yet gone into effect (it stills needs to pass a vote in the European Parliament), but as much as I wish Apple would finally put USB-C on the iPhone, I’m actually hoping it doesn’t pass. For several reasons.

Today, the European Commission has put forward legislation that would require all portable electronic devices to have a USB-C port — including Apple’s iPhone.

It slows down innovation

Sure, USB Type-C is a great port, usually associated with great standards (and, we should point out, you could arguably implement those standards using another cable/port), but do we really want this to be the only plug we have? It’s certainly easy to conceive of a better plug for charging if you have other priorities.

Forcing the USB-C port on all devices means that we will never have anything better than USB-C — or, at least, it would be a lot harder to make something better.

After all, barrel connectors remain a thing, and product requirements change over time. What if someone wants to create a smaller connector? Or one with a magnetic connection?

Or one that supports faster transfer rates or charging speeds through some other means that the current connector lacks?

USB Type-C is arguably the best plug we have going right now, I’m not arguing against that. But we wouldn’t be able to experiment with alternatives as easily if a specific port becomes mandated for certain product categories. What if this had happened when Micro USB was still the standard? Imagine still being stuck on Micro USB for everything, using a weak connector that was more prone to breaking, wasn’t reversible, and got clogged with lint and gunk more easily.

Standards at the time for that port capped at 480 Mbps transfer speed maximums, without the benefits of our current much higher fast-charging rates. And sure, we could have improved on that same four-wire implementation beyond what we had, but we wouldn’t be the beneficiaries of USB Type-C’s 20 extra pins and all the protocols and functionality you legitimately just need more copper to deliver.

Apple’s Lightning connector, which was released 3 years before USB-C was announced, would probably never have existed either, if you see that as a benefit. Compounded by that is the fundamental fact that the pace of legislation moves much slower than technology. USB-C was first proposed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) in 2014, making it already 7 years old (as old as Micro USB when USB-C was first announced).

If (or when) the USB-IF announces a successor to USB-C, how many years will it take until the EU makes it legal for companies to implement it? By late 2023, the earliest this law would ever become enforceable, USB-C will be almost a decade old. And if and when we do have a “better” port than Type-C, how long would it take for the EU to allow companies to use it?

News Summary:

  • The reason the EU forces Apple to adopt USB-C would be a bad thing
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