New EU Charging Standard Shows How Regulation Could Improve Tech

No oversight also means no guidance

  • Apple should have switched to USB-C years ago. 
  • The EU is better suited than the US to reign in big tech
  • Every other industry thrives despite regulation.
The Native Union hammerhead charger for Apple devices.

Native Union

Thanks to the EU, Apple will soon retire its Lighting cable and allow third-party app stores onto the iPhone, and this illustrates exactly why governments have to stay on top of big tech. 

This week, Native Union announced its Belt Cable Duo, a hammerhead cable that can charge almost any device. The absurd thing is that a basic USB-C cable could do the same job for all your devices except your iPhone and maybe an older iPad. It's a neat illustration of what happens when "innovation" is allowed to run unchecked by the consumer protections provided by law.

"Big tech companies often have a significant amount of power and influence, and it is important for governments to ensure that they are acting in the best interests of consumers and society as a whole," social website operator and startup founder Brandon Mackie told Lifewire via email.

"The EU has been able to take a more assertive approach towards regulating big tech companies, such as Microsoft in the 90s and Apple more recently, due to its strong antitrust laws and regulatory agencies. In contrast, the US government has historically been more hesitant to regulate big tech companies, which has led to criticism from some quarters."

Lightning vs USB-C

Before Lightning, Apple used the ridiculously big 30-pin Dock Connector to charge iPhones and iPods. Most other phones either used their own proprietary charging connectors or micro USB, aka the worst USB ever. 

Most of the major products these companies rely on aren't radically different from things we had ten or even 20 years ago...

Lightning was, and is, fantastic. It can be inserted either way, makes a solid connection, and it's small. However, USB-C offers all that, plus way faster transfer speeds and enough power for anything from a mouse to a MacBook Pro. And USB-C is not only the de-facto standard for charging, but thanks to EU law, it will be a legal charging standard from 2024. 

Apple has used USB-C in laptops and iPads for years. Meanwhile, every one of the hundreds of millions of iPhone users worldwide has had to carry a separate charging cable for their phone. Finally, the EU has forced it into line. 

The point is that big tech might complain that government regulation "stifles innovation," but they really mean that it stops them from doing whatever they want. The car industry is heavily regulated, for example, and yet it still manages to make a penny or two. Ditto the building industry or pretty much any industry that isn't naked tech or software. 

"There's very little in the way of technical or beneficial innovation happening, especially in the social media and personal tech space. Most of the major products these companies rely on aren't radically different from things we had ten or even 20 years ago except for the business models and monetization strategies," Ben Michael, attorney at Michael and Associates, told Lifewire via email.

Two smartphones charging on a flat surface, each with different cables.

Steve Johnson / Unsplash

Meanwhile, consumers bear the brunt of this ceaseless innovation. Home security cameras get away with sending your supposedly private video to the cloud, ad-tech companies like Google and Meta harvest your personal data without limits, and Tesla tests self-driving vehicles on public roads. 

And that's before we get to the blight that is the modern-day central-heating thermostat. 

Too Fast

But tech is different, you might say. If it were slowed down by governments and had to wait for laws to be passed, then we wouldn't have AI selfie filters or worker-exploiting Ubers. 

Facebook's unofficial motto used to be "Move fast and break things." Perhaps technology moves too fast? Maybe if it were subject to laws that slow it down, then innovations would come in a form that benefited customers.

Developers might take more time to fix bugs instead of trying to invent the next big thing. Imagine devices that worked perfectly every time you used them. Heating thermostats that could be programmed without first studying the manual, then watching a YouTube video, and then giving up. 

Several devices connected to charging cables, all with different cords.

BernardaSv / Getty Images

It's a balance, to be sure, but one that could do with tilting back in favor of the user. Technology needs to move forward, just as companies need to make a profit, but those goals have to coexist with consideration for their side effects. And let's not forget how great things can be when properly controlled. 

Government regulations have given us free cell phone roaming in the EU, buildings that do not collapse in earthquakes, paint that doesn't poison our children, and so on.

Right now, it's all a big mess, to be sure. But, perhaps when the initial wild-west phase of technology settles into a more regulated era, things might slow down enough for us to take control and bend technology to benefit the users and humans in general. Wouldn't that be a thing?

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