Speaking of USB, here’s Louis Anslow, writing last month for The Daily Beast, on Democratic proposals to follow the EU’s lead and mandate USB-C charging ports:
Regulation is about predictability and familiarity, bringing order
out of chaos. Thinking similar. Innovation is about
unpredictability and unfamiliarity, it is about thinking
differently. Creativity loves constraints, but it doesn’t love
rules. When regulations mandate means, rather than ends, they
create a box which to think outside of is prohibited by law.
All lawmakers should acknowledge this tension and dynamic.
Proponents of the EU’s USB-C charging port mandate speak as though bringing order out of chaos is still a problem to be solved in the mobile phone world, like it was 15 years ago. It’s not. Market forces generally work, and in the case of charging ports, they have: there are only two meaningful phone charging ports today, USB-C and Lightning. There is no chaos. There are good arguments for Apple to switch the iPhone to USB-C (high-speed data transfer, particularly for the 4K video footage iPhones have long been capable of, being at the top of the list), and good arguments against (zillions of iPhone owners with zillions of existing Lightning cables). But that should be for Apple to decide.
Charging-port-regulation proponents often tell me the regulations are no impediment to progress at all. If someone comes up with a better-than-USB-C charging port, they can just bring it to the industry’s USB consortium and it’ll get approved and then all devices will use that new superior charging port. But that’s not how industry consortiums actually function. What actually happens is that consortiums entrench the current standard, because most companies have no interest in raising the state of the art. If they can just drag their feet and keep using what everyone is required to also use so long as they drag their feet, they’ll drag their feet.
And why mandate that any new port be an industry standard? If some company comes up with the next breakthrough like Lightning was in 2012, why disallow them from keeping their own invention as a proprietary advantage? It was the existence of Lightning that prompted the USB-C connector to even exist. Prior to Lightning, USB connectors were both unidirectional (one side was up, the other down) and ungainly. Competition works, and technical progress is inevitable, but the EU’s mandate — which some Democrats foolishly want to copy — denies both of those facts.
★ Saturday, 3 September 2022