Editor’s note: Jeff Yang is research director at the Institute for the Future and head of their Digital Intelligence Lab. A frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, he co-hosts the “They Call Us Bruce” podcast and is co-author of the new book “RISE: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more reviews on CNN.
Back in 2018 – that’s five generations of iPhones – an acquaintance shared a photo of a bunch of frayed, useless Apple Lightning charging cables on my Twitter feed, complaining that as a trillion-dollar company, Apple should “discover a way to make better cords.
I tweeted back that, if the number of Lightning cables I’ve purchased is any indication, their savage commitment to self-destructing phone cords is exactly why they’re a trillion dollar company.
My response generated a thunderous chorus of agreement, with tens of thousands of people around the world stepping in to share their own cable-related woes. Some have even counted the “cord tax” that their households are hit on an annual basis (my own share: about $100 a year, since my kids apparently consume them like Pocky).
All this to say that iPhone cords are big business: there are said to be around 1.2 billion active iPhones in the wild. And if their charging cables need replacing once or twice a year, as many users attest at around $20 a pop, well, you could pretty much buy a Twitter a year for that amount.
That’s why the Council of the European Union’s approval of a new mandate requiring phones to converge to a single wired charging standard from 2024 – the relatively cheap and simple USB-C cord – is a such a hallelujah moment for iPhone owners everywhere.
And anyone who’s ever turned their house upside down looking for that elusive cord with “the right bit,” for that matter. The new rules mean that in two years, a whole range of electronic devices – from phones to tablets and headphones – will finally use the same juice dongles (pardon the technical term).
The conversion challenge has never been technological. One end of a typical iPhone cable already has a USB-C connector, since it was ironically Apple that led the industry in migrating all of its laptops to USB-C ports in 2016. And the flagship iPad tablets from Apple have been moved to USB. -C recharge in 2018.
While the new edict directly only applies to devices sold in the EU, India appears set to follow in Europe’s footsteps.
The question that one might naturally ask is why the US is dragging its feet, given EU leadership and India’s quick follow-up in this regard.
One answer could be the millions Apple spends on lobbying in its home country. But another is simply that America tends to pride itself on its bloodthirsty love of letting the markets do the dirty work of solving consumer confusion, which, growing up, led my tech-stumped dad to clutter up our house with Betamax tapes, laserdiscs and HD-DVDs (I believe we had copies of the 1955 film version of “Oklahoma!”, a fatherly favorite, on all three formats).
The fact is, however, that this decision will almost certainly serve as a push that will cause Apple to finally abandon its bespoke battery booster approach for future versions of the world’s most popular smartphone. Even Greg Joswiak, the company’s global marketing manager, admitted that the push for EU standardization means Lightning’s lifespan is probably finally over. And just in time, given that ten years ago Apple called it the “cable standard for the next decade”.
So what does this mean for gadget lovers in the future? Well, the arrival of a cord to charge them all will make it easier to keep devices powered up when hijacked, reducing the likelihood of being exposed to that inducing “10% battery remaining” pop-up. fibrillation. Replacing lost or broken cords will be simple and cheap, without worrying that a Lightning cable bought at a dodgy gas station will blow your phone off like a hand grenade.
It might even dilute some of the tribal tension between iPhone and Android users, assuming the latter don’t lord it over us that most of them have been loading with C for half a decade already. (We still have our blue message bubbles, greenies!)
And it could generally reduce the temptation for tech companies, chief among them Apple, to “innovate” by introducing proprietary parts that regularly force a full cascade of expensive upgrades. (The fact that every new iPhone seems to be a random millimeter different in size and shape in every direction already means that new cases, cradles and screen protectors have to be bought along with new handsets, all for the privilege of a few hundred pixels of fresh real estate.)
While this process may provide a welcome financial boost to the peripherals and accessories industry, it contributes to the enormous environmental burden caused by e-waste, estimated at around 60 million tonnes per year – an amount heavier than the heaviest man-made object in the world, the Great Wall of China.
Of course, that begs the question of what Santa should be giving kids stocking stuffers year after year, now that a bunch of phone cords are probably out. It’s back to sugar plums!
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