How Will Apple Cope With Europe’s Common Charger?
Last year the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch, said that it had reached a voluntary agreement with ten major mobile phone manufacturers to bring a common charger for mobile phones to the market.
A couple of weeks ago the story resurfaced, this was because of this piece by Deutsche Welle. Within the story is a comment from the Dennis Abbott, a European Commission spokesperson who reportedly informed the publication that mobile phones with the new standardised charger will appear in January 2011. I’m unable to clarify the comments as they are exclusive to this source but I have sought comment from the EC.
So let’s assume the comments are accurate, we’re expecting to begin seeing this mythical standardised charger appearing early next year. What’s not clear from the hundreds of reports on this is how these manufacturers, particularly Apple are planning to cope with this change.
So let’s get facts clear, this whole thing is not European Union legislation, it is what’s known as a Memorandum of Understanding or “MoU”. The MoU exists between the manufacturers, in addition to the MoU there will also be a new European Union standard which will ensure “safe use of new mobile phones as well as avoidance of radio interference problems”.
Once again this is not legislation. So in theory despite being bad decorum it would be possible for a manufacturer to drop out of the agreement at anytime. For reference those who have signed the agreement are: Apple, Emblaze Mobile, Huawei Technologies, LGE, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research in Motion (RIM), Samsung, SonyEricsson, TCT Mobile (ALCATEL mobile phones), and Texas Instruments.
The agreement sets out that mobile phones and in particular “data-enabled” mobile phones can be charged anywhere by a new common charger. In more simple terms, one charger fits all. The charger or external power supply as it is more commonly named will be based on the Micro-USB standard.
Immediately this looks like a problem and if you were to believe the handfuls of other reports on the matter you’d believe that the manufacturers involved will be placing Micro-USB ports on their devices. This may well be the case but this is not the requirement.
The EC requires manufacturers within the agreement to have a cable assembly that “terminates in a Micro-B plug” (Part A, page 1, sect 2). Additionally an external power supply “provided with a detachable cable shall be equipped with a USB Standard-A receptacle.” Finally, “Standard detachable cable assembly, supplied for use with the EPS, shall have Standard-A and Micro-B plugs”
If we now involve Apple it seems that there is a problem, it reads that Apple is going to be required to include a charging cable that ends with a Micro-USB receptacle, after all their standard charging cable already uses USB Standard-A so that end is fine. Except within the agreement is this little bit of gold, “requirement also applies to detachable cables used as adaptor i.e. where the Micro-B is replaced by a proprietary plug”.
If it is not clear enough in that section then a second document (Page 1, sect 1) sums it up quite nicely, albeit in the small print:
In case a mobile phone does not have this connector [Micro-USB] integrated in the device, an Adaptor may be available to ensure compatibility. An “Adaptor” is defined as a device with a Micro-USB receptacle/plug connecting to a specific non Micro-USB connector. An Adaptor can also be a detachable cable.
So it’s clear Apple is free to include a Micro-USB to 30-pin Dock connector adapter. This will allow the iPhone to be charged from any common charger (assuming you have the adapter) and Apple keeps its proprietary do-it-all connector.
What is not clear is what cable Apple will bundle with iPhones sold in the EU. Currently Apple ships iPhones with a USB power adapter and Dock Connector to USB cable. This is not inline with the agreement, if a consumer went out and purchased another mobile phone they would not be able to charge their new phone with this cable.
Will Apple begin shipping iPhones in the EU with a Micro-USB to USB cable? It’d still charge the iPhone and transfer data using the adapter but the annoyance would be carrying the adapter. Will Apple ship two cables with new iPhones, a Micro-USB and Dock Connector? Or even simpler a two-in-one cable, much like it used to do with FireWire and USB.
It’s impossible to say, we’ll just have to wait and see.