The “chargers directive” requiring the installation of a USB-C port on smartphones, tablets and laptops has been hailed as a reform that will save European consumers, reduce CO2 emissions and cut down on the amount of electronic waste. In reality, however, this legislation is substantially ineffective, inefficient and therefore useless.
The EU says yes to the single charger for all electronic devices
by Bruno Ruffilli
Regardless of the actual urgency of such a measure – the technological sector has a non-postponable problem of independence from the large foreign operators that European and Italian institutions have put quite low in the list of priorities – it is natural to ask whether the European parliamentarians who have approved the directive are really aware of the real problems connected to the apparatuses “freed” by the new directive.
The law, in fact, says verbatim that to the extent that they can be recharged by cable, the categories or classes of radio equipment referred to in point 1 of this part … must be equipped with a USB type C socket … must be capable of being recharged with cables conforming to EN IEC 62680-1-3: 2021. Even without being an electronic engineer, it is quite clear to understand that (net of wireless charging systems) you need a cable to connect a charger to a device, and that on the part that connects to the charger, the cable could have a different socket than the one that connects to the apparatus. In other words, the regulatory requirement applies to the side of the cable that connects to the terminal, and not to the side that connects to the power supply.
Furthermore, the directive does not prohibit the use of other interfaces for data transfer. Today, both the current for the battery and the data to be exchanged with a computer can pass on the same cable. Tomorrow, with the transposition of the directive and always excluding the possibility of wireless transfers, there is nothing to prevent manufacturers from adding a new proprietary interface that “allows for a better user experience” or “additional features”. The important thing, in other words, is that the USB-C connector imposed by the EU provides also data transport, but nothing prevents the functionality from being available through another interface.
Similarly, there is nothing to prevent manufacturers from making a third-party charger incompatible via power cords, making sure that only the original or licensed ones can be used. An example is the lightning cable, used by Apple on the iPhone and Ipad, which since 2012 has been equipped with an “active” chip that can be conceptually used to check the originality of the component. Furthermore, it is not unthinkable to hypothesize that cables also become the new frontier of digital rights management and that — as has already happened — they are transformed into data-loggers or worse.
We would then have to understand what to do with the huge amount of cables with different interfaces and what is the actual possibility of recovering them using adapters. In fact, it is not taken for granted that these are sufficient to continue using the old cable and the old power supply. One example is the Rode iXY microphone originally designed for use on iPads with the 30-pin connector. When Apple switched to the lightning connector it would have been obvious to imagine that using a converter would have allowed them to continue using the excellent — but expensive — microphone. However, this is not the case because the interface change has brought with it the loss of support for the “old” hardware, with damage and insult to the consumer.
As it is easy to understand (but not for the Community legislator) the protection of the environment and the consumer are not obtained simplistically by requiring the use of a connector.