Today's Cache | EU's charger mandate is problematic

Today’s Cache dissects big themes at the intersection of technology, business and policy. Written by John Xavier, tech news lead at The Hindu

The European Union’s proposed legislation on smartphone chargers may not hit all targets

Complementary goods are usually sold together as demand for one translates to demand for another. This is a basic concept of economics.  That’s why razors are paired with blades and the two are bundled into one package. It helps consumers quickly find a compatible product to finish the task. But sometimes the second product may not be useful in repeat purchases.  

Mobile phones and chargers may well fall into that category of complementary goods. For over three decades, people bought mobile phones with free chargers. It was unimaginable to buy a handset without a charger in the box. But sometime last year Apple decided rethink the chemistry between smartphone and the humble charger.

The EU aims to have a common charging port for mobile phones, tablets and headphones | Photo Credit: Reuters

 

During a launch event last September, the iPhone-maker said its latest handset will be sold without a charger. The company said the move was aimed at reducing carbon footprint and bringing down the level of E-waste. Its South Korean rival Samsung followed suit for its Galaxy line of smartphones.    

Now, a year later, the European Commission has put forward a bloc-wide proposal for a common charging standard in smartphone and other electronic devices. The commission says that electronic products sold in the EU-bloc must have only one type of charging port: “USB-C type”.

The Brussels-headquartered organisation’s move is targeted at cutting down roughly 11 Mt of e-waste generated by disposed of and unused chargers. It also seeks to assuage consumers’ concerns about the cost of buying standalone chargers, which it estimates at 2.4 billion euros annually for the bloc.

While the commission’s plan may not effectively solve the consumer cost issue, it could throw a spanner in the works for Apple, which is looking to sell its “Lightning” chargers in the EU market.

The legislation will hurt Apple’s product design strategy as the company has been gradually sealing up its iPhone with no way for users to insert a charger into it. With the proposed rule, the smartphone maker may have to rethink its device’s design. 

On the consumer cost issue, the effect of unbundling may not be passed on to end users. This is evident in Apple’s sale of its latest smartphones. Even without the charger, the company sold its newest iPhones at the usual price bands. So, without a price sealing legislation it is hard to drive down the cost for end users.

 

(This column was emailed on September 27.)

 

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