A new EU proposal could force Apple to get creative with the iPhone 6 and the Lightning connection which Apple uses to charge the modern iPhone models and connect them to computers.
Apple introduced the Lightning connection in 2012, replacing a bulkier 30-in connector, and adding the new connection to the iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad mini and the new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. It’s clear that Apple wants the Lightning connection to be the connection it uses for years to come with an official iPhone 5s Lightning dock on sale now.
The Lightning connection and Micro USB connection are of similar size, but the Lightning connection inserts in whether the cable is up or down, compared to the Micro USB’s single connection orientation.
When Apple made the switch to a Lightning connection it was in the midst of complying with a EU Mandate for a universal smartphone charger, which it skirted by selling a micro USB to Lightning adapter in the EU at launch, and later bringing it to the U.S.
The original memorandum on standardized charging in the EU expired at the end of 2012, and now the EU government is back a the table with an attempt to standardize smartphone and tablet charging connections with a goal of ending the waste that comes from buying new chargers for each phone.
The updated ruling, which still needs passed is expanded to include tablets, so it could influence Apple’s plans for an iPad 6 or iPad mini 3 as we look further out into Apple’s 2014 product lineup.
The new ruling is waiting committee decision, but the draft report states, “A renewed effort to develop a common charger would therefore be highly desirable and consequently be beneficial in particular for consumers and other end-users.”
While the report does not specifically call out Micro USB as the standard to choose, it is the current marketplace winner for Windows Phone, Android devices and BlackBerry. The iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s use a Lightning connection and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 uses a new USB 3.0 compliant cable with backwards compatibility for a standard Micro USB cable.
If passed in a general council later this year, the proposal could force Apple to make a decision for the iPhone 6 which many analysts expect to see in 2014. The EU is capable of forcing the hand of large corporations, requiring Microsoft to add a browser selection option in 2010 and assigning a fine of $731 million for antitrust issues. It’s easy to think that Apple has the weight it needs to push it’s own standard, but clearly the EU is a powerful organization, even for companies based in the U.S.
While this legislation could in theory force Apple to adopt a new connection type, Apple was able to skirt the earlier agreement by offering a Micro USB to Lightning adapter. The initial agreement allowed the use of an adapter to meet the requirements.
It’s not clear if Apple could argue that the Micro USB to Lightning adapter is enough to constitute an iPhone 6 that complies with the updated legislation. Apple may choose to ship the EU version of the iPhone 6 with a Micro USB cable and Lightning adapter, or a similar combo that includes an adapter, rather than trying to make a iPhone 6 with Micro USB.
If the EU government chooses a new standard as Micro USB, it’s not clear how long that would remain in place and how that could change the pace of adopting new charging technology in smartphones from Apple, Samsung, Nokia, HTC and others.