Why I Think Making USB-C the Default Is Harder Than It Sounds

The EU may not have thought this through

Key Takeaways

  • The European Commission proposes making USB-C the only charging port/connection in the near future.
  • USB-C charging isn't exactly universal at the moment and would require a lot of work and collaboration to address.
  • "Unbundling" charging accessories from new electronics puts a lot of burden on the consumer.
Someone plugging a USB-C cord into a laptop computer.

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The European Commission is attempting to make USB-C the standard for all electronic devices going forward, but I’m not sure it’s thought this through.

According to the Commission’s statement, this proposal aims to reduce e-waste and minimize user inconvenience. If successful, USB-C will become the new universal charging port for electronic devices, and companies will be required to provide charging performance information. New electronic devices also would stop bundling chargers in the package by default.

These steps would likely cut down on outdated charging cable refuse over time, help consumers avoid wasting money on the wrong accessory, and prevent extra cable piles from forming. I understand these intentions, and I think they’re worth aiming for. I don’t believe this is a bad idea—quite the opposite, in fact—but I’m not convinced that it will work out the way the Commission expects.

The Tech Side

USB-C charging is seeing more and more use with newer electronic devices, making the shift to being the universal format seem sensible. However, it's not currently as clear-cut as simply having everything use USB-C. As Digital Trends points out, not every electronics company is treating USB-C the same way.

Closeup of a USB-C charging cable.

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Some laptops include USB-C ports, but don't use them for charging—instead opting for proprietary cables and connections. Others can be charged either way, but charging via the company-branded adapter is faster.

Still, other laptops do rely on USB-C for charging, but only will work with proprietary USB-C chargers. While the European Commission does sort of address this, stating it "...will help prevent that different producers unjustifiably limit the charging speed," that's not the only problem.

Not all devices are built the same way when it comes to charging. The requirements for one piece of hardware won't necessarily match up with another, resulting in inconsistent changing performance.

Some of this could possibly be addressed by adjusting a device's power settings, but it's not a guaranteed fix. It's also unlikely that every user will know how to do this, and not all electronics have settings that users can change.

If the Commission's proposal does get passed, the industry will need to roll out these changes within 24 months. Even at my most optimistic, I doubt that every tech company can make sure every device performs the same with every USB-C cable by 2023.

The Consumer Side

I have my doubts over how beneficial all of this would be for the average consumer, too. The proposal would require more specific charging information from manufacturers and "unbundle" chargers from electronic sales. Once again, the Commission predicts a reduction in e-waste and drawers full of extra chargers, and I'm skeptical.

Black, Cornish Rex kitten playing with a USB-C cable.

Vadzim Sheleh / Getty Images

To be clear, the goal is a worthwhile one. Cutting back on waste and avoiding unintended stockpiles of useless accessories is a good thing. My uncertainty stems from the approach.

It's the unbundling of charging cables that has me raising an eyebrow in this case. I do understand that buying electronics can lead to a stockpile of pack-in chargers. But not including chargers with new electronics strikes me as the wrong move.

Buyers could mistakenly come home without a way to power up their brand new device. They could believe that their universal USB-C charger at home will work with their new toy, and then it turns out it doesn't. Or, at the most basic level, some consumers will perceive this as having to pay extra for a vital accessory that should have come with the device in the first place.

Taking steps to reduce e-waste while also making thighs easier on consumers is a commendable goal. I think the Commission's intentions are good, and I don't believe the proposal in itself is a bad thing.

However, I also think there are far more factors to consider before charging ahead with this. Many little things could lead to some pretty big headaches if they aren't accounted for early on.

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