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Phones safe, but laptop makers may face troubles with one-charger rule

Phones safe, but laptop makers may face troubles with one-charger rule
Photo Credit: Pixabay
18 Aug, 2022
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The electronics industry is divided on the Indian government’s proposal to adopt a one-charger policy similar to the European Union (EU). The EU policy advocates that electronics should use common chargers, thereby reducing the need for consumers to buy separate chargers for different devices. While phone makers, especially, have been moving towards a common standard for a few years now, the move will be more difficult for laptop firms and others, experts said.

For instance, Ajai Chowdhry, founder of HCL and chairman of the industry consortium EPIC Foundation, said, “For a country that has the third largest amount of e-waste we should avoid things that will make it worse.” He added that urban homes have 10-14 chargers and “the time has come to realise that it’s a sheer waste of resources”.

Growing e-waste is one of the chief concerns in the EU proposal as well. The European regulator has mandated in July this year that electronics firms should adopt USB Type-C as the standard charging port by September 2024, which could be a blow for firms like Apple, which uses proprietary charging standards on its iPhones and some Macs.

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However, while a rule like this could be troublesome for Apple in India too, the country presents a broader challenge. Unlike the EU or the US, India has a much wider variety of devices, and it is an exporter of chargers rather than them being manufactured here. Even the EU has given an extension till January 2028.

Ali Akhtar Jafri, acting director general at industry body Manufacturers Association for Information Technology (MAIT), said that the “there is apprehension in the industry” and a one-charger rule could affect manufacturing as demand for chargers will reduce. “We suggested to the Consumer Affairs ministry that we should wait and watch how the EU's implementation of the common charger pans out,” he said.

Further, experts noted that proprietary chargers are also an additional revenue source for many firms, since users have to buy chargers from them again if the ones supplied with a device go bad.

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“This is true for laptops, but for wearables it depends on design. Every brand has a different design and real estate of the product is too small to have a standard connector,” said Navkendar Singh, associate vice-president for devices research at IDC India, South Asia and ANZ.

Chowdhry, too, agreed that implementing a single charger will be challenging. He noted that laptop makers and entry-level smartphones may not be able to use USB Type-C, as it adds to the cost. “The mobile industry is already rationalised and uses either micro-USB or USB Type-C ports. Around 97-98% phones use these two. The matter of concern is laptops, as they all have different chargers,” said Pankaj Mohindroo, Chairman of India Cellular & Electronics Association (ICEA).

According to IDC’s Singh, micro-USB (an older standard) is still used in 10% of smartphones in India. A report by IDC earlier this month said that 72 million smartphones were shipped in India in the first half of 2022 alone.

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Some PC players may also be unsure because of power delivery needs. Gaming laptops, and others that are used for graphic-intensive tasks require power delivery of 240W or more. For this, they will need to deploy more expensive chargers, which cut into their margins, even if by a little bit. Given that companies have been trying to make cheaper devices to reach audiences specific to countries like India, they may not want to take on the added cost. PC makers Dell, HP, Acer, and Lenovo did not comment on this story.

To be sure, India is far from implementing this rule at the moment. Industry stakeholders and government officials have both said that the government is only in “listening mode” right now. "It is a complex issue. India has a position in the manufacturing of chargers. We have to understand everybody's perspective — industry, the users, manufacturers and environment — before taking a final decision," Rohit Kumar Singh, Consumer Affairs Secretary, said after a meeting with the industry yesterday.

Vinod Sharma, chairman of the National Committee on ICTE, at CII, said that the industry will need a lot of time before things can be finalized.

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The move may finally be inevitable though. Large manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already been moving to USB Type-C, as have been many laptop makers in their premium devices. For instance, many of Apple’s iPads and the 2021-22 editions of Macbook laptops charge using Type-C ports as opposed to the company’s proprietary MagSafe charging. Even the 2022 Macbook Air offers both Type-C and MagSafe options.

Chowdhry also pointed out that “a leap of faith” like this may be essential for the country’s electronics industry if India is to develop its own electronics industry and design products here in the long run. He added that devices in the country are still using outdated charging technology, and haven’t upgraded to newer tech like Gallium nitride (GAN) or semiconductors, which are more efficient.

“If produced in large numbers in India, the cost will also come down. It can also save a lot of power too,” he added.

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