In February, seventeen of the world's biggest, big-boy cell phone manufacturers got their Voltron on, banding together under the flag of the GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) to promise universal handset jack-ability by 2012. Ever since then, I've read countless articles by tech writers praising this announcement and heralding it as the long-overdue end to that proverbial bottom drawer full of old, outdated chargers we all supposedly keep. But I'm not drinking the GSMA's Kool-Aid.
I myself have dedicated past columns to the subject of universal gadget charging, and I definitely lay claim to a rat's nest of old cables, connectors, and chargers lying dormant in a drawer somewhere. So why am I not impressed? Because I don't think the GSMA announcement amounts to much of anything. I don't believe some of the claims it makes, I don't think it's going to make my life much easier, and I certainly don't see an end to the cable salad I'm forced to hump around with me wherever I travel.
Perhaps this is an easy potshot to take, but my first problem with the 2012 initiative, which has knighted micro-USB as the juicer or choice, is that Apple isn't signed on. Granted, the iPhone only accounts for little more than one percent of the entire smartphone market today, but we're talking about a product that's just a year and a half old. By 2012, who knows what kind of growth we'll see -- triple? 10X? Even if it never gets that high, the iPhone will always remain the industry trendsetter, and not being compatible with it seems, well, out of fashion.
Another beef I have with the new universal connector is that not even all of the companies involved are 100-percent signed on. The GSMA announcement states, "The group agreed that by the 1st January 2012, the majority of all new mobile phone models available will support a universal charging connector." The "majority" referred to here is not of all cell phone manufacturers, but a majority of the cell phone manufacturers backing this initiative. So, if even these companies aren't going all-in on micro-USB, how universal will it ever really be?
The GSMA's declaration of universality also states that, "with potentially 50 per cent less chargers being manufactured each year, the industry can expect to reduce greenhouse gases in manufacturing and transporting replacement chargers by 13.6 to 21.8 million tonnes a year." It goes on to say that this reduction will lead to, "the potential elimination of up to 51,000 tonnes of duplicate chargers [in our landfills]." These numbers are optimistic at best, grossly inflated at worst. 50 percent fewer chargers manufactured? C'mon. This assumes that every single GSMA manufacturer will produce two different SKUs for each cell phone they make: one sold with a charger and one without. Does the GSMA really expect manufacturers to spend the money to do that? I don't.
But what bothers me most about the GSMA initiative and the positive reception it's been welcomed with is that I think people are missing (or choosing not to see) its obvious shortcomings. Even if you're someday able to buy a new phone without a charger, this does nothing for you if you forget to pack your micro-USB cable when traveling. Yes, you might be lucky enough to be jetsetting with a friend who also happens to own a GSMA-member phone, but more than likely you'll need to shell out for a new micro-USB cable that you'll just shove in a bottom drawer once you get home. And what about the longevity of micro-USB as format? If I buy a GSMA phone in 2012 and replace it with another GSMA phone in 2014, maybe I'll be spared the purchase of one extra charger. But who's to say micro-USB will even be around in 2016 or 2018 when I buy my next phones? Who's to say we'll be charging with wires at all in the near future?
Then there's that bottom drawer full of old cables. Yeah, I've got some vintage stuff in there I'm hoping I'll someday find a use for. But mostly the drawer is filled with chargers for gadgets I actually use and travel with. If I were in the habit of traveling with 10 phones on me at all times, then yes, micro-USB would certainly cut down on a lot of clutter. But I travel with one phone, often accompanied by a laptop, a Nintendo DS, a digital camera, a PMP and an electric shave razor. Micro-USB won't help me there. I still have to remember to pack a charger for each and every one of those electrical thingamajigs. Now, a universal charger that would allow me to pump voltage into all of those things -- that would be an announcement to get psyched about.
I think the GSMA's micro-USB initiative is a nice start, but it's not much of a solution to our cable-lugging, charger-replacing woes. That said, even if the environmental implications have been exaggerated a tad, anything that lessens our impact on the Earth can't be too much of a bad thing.
I've always half-cared about universal chargers for EVERYTHING, not to mention having the manufacturers clearly label what device the little black brick is meant for (often, you know, they throw in some cheap, no-name/third-party AC adapter).
I'm on my second Nokia phone and if Nokia cannot provide a common adapter for its OWN products --and, apparently, they can't-- then I have no hope for the industry as a whole. Memo to Nokia: How hard can it be, really?
I only read the headlines, so I don't know the details, but did they address the "vampire" effect of all these adapters being plugged-in all the time?
You think it's a bad idea just becase Apple hasn't signed on for this? Give me a break. Apple isn't everything. Not everyone in the world owns an iPhone or for that matter, any Apple product and not everyone will. As for your comment "...this does nothing for you if you forget to pack your micro-USB cable when traveling", heck, it does nothing for me right now if I forget my phone charger at home when traveling. And since my wife has a different phone than I do, it still does nothing for me. At least if some phone manufacturers standarize on SOMETHING, then there is a good chance I can borrow a charger from a friend when I forget mine. As of right now, I can't. Needless to say, I see the universal charger as a good thing. It has to start someplace and no doubt will grow to other devices.
I completely agree with this. I myself don't carry more then one phone, but I do carry a multiple electronics that require a charger. If the major corporations ever figure out what they are going to do with the whole picture problem, instead of just phone problem; here are some additional suggestions that would help make everyone's life easier and help reduce the tangled mess of wires:
Octopus charger- Since they are making a universal charging cord, they should make it have multiple ends on it, so you can charge your mp3 player, cell phone, and camera at the same time and use only one plug. (They should do the same thing with USB cables.) Like a reverse power strip or USB hub. Instead of the devices being plugged into the hub/power strip, plug the hub/power strip into the device. The cords on this should also be retractable so things can stay neat as possible.
Universal battery chargers in everything- Like when you plug in your cell phone or electric shaver. Not only should we have a standard battery, like a AAA. You should be able to swap it around and charged it in any device. Like cordless power tools, except with regular batteries. Everyone knows rechargeable batteries don’t last forever; and all but 15% of the population that are living under a rock know you can hack all of these devices and put in new rechargeable batteries. So why not make it easier on everybody? Let’s use a standard size battery that can be easily swapped out and charged in any camera, phone, tom-tom, shaver, toothbrush, drill, or mp3 player. Plus if you’re remote batteries die while channel surfing you could swap them with the batteries in your wife/girlfriend’s cell phone.
While this plan isn't the answer to a maiden's prayer, it's the first time that ANY industrial group has addressed this issue. I, like most, not only have the older units, but also a goodly collection of current warts and chargers, obscenely sprawling at various odd positions on my electrical outlets -- often hogging 2 or even 3 outlet spaces for no paricularly good reason.
So, if we start to get even 2 or 3 standard types, then maybe some bright company will manufacture some space efficient models -- or, even some that could efficiently and compactly service several devices (be still my trembling heart).
Instead of damning the consortium with faint praise, perhaps you -- and everyone else -- should castigate Apple for its' stand on this issue. They're not abstaining because they have any kind of superior system. They just don't want to give up one of the proprietary profit centers to which they've become so enamored. (Outrageously expensive, single sourced, connectors anyone?). Apple, your halo is looking a little tarnished here.
Paul I think the product you are looking for already exists.
I have seen this company, IDAPT (idaptweb.com) during the CES Show in Las Vegas. They have created a charging station where you can charge all your devices, your phones, mp3 players, nintendo DS and so on... just by using some swappable connectors.
So if you need a neat solution and no cables, well...I think this is your solution.
There are plenty of good references about them on google. seems to be a good product
That's what I am talking about. These people need to advertise more. They have a great product that will work all around the world. I guarantee this company will take full advantage of this new universal plug. Now all we need is for Duracell to put their rechargeable batteries and chargers in everything that takes batteries.
I look forward to my cell phone using a micro-USB charger. Already, my MP3 player, portable computer hard drive, and GPS use micro-USB.
If any of you are Cingular users than you are in luck. Cingular already has something like this called the iGo Phone Charger. Now is what it is is that its a phone charger that only needs one cord going from it and then all you have to do is insert a piece on the end that works for your type of phone. Now this is good for if your family is all using Cingular and you go on a trip, and one of you forget your charger, and you have your plug type for your phone with the iGo charger that has your family's phone plug-ins in a kit with it. Than all that one person has to do is take off the tip that is on it already, and switch it for their phone's plug. So Cingular is making it easy to charge different phones of the theirs with one charger needed.
The author of this article needs to wake up and realize that rest of the world could care less for a technological crap like the iphone. If it was so great, like the author mentioned it would occupy more than one percent of the global cell phone market. As for a universal cell phone charger, at least it is a start towards some standard. In Korea all cell phone are required by law to be universal. Samsung, LG, Motorola, Nokia, etc. are share the same type of connector. It is so nice to be able to charge your phone if your battery runs low while visiting someone because their cell phone charger will work with your phone no matter the brand. Recently, a new type of connector has been introduced into the Korean market, but this is not a problem because the new phones with a different type of connector comes with an adapter than will let you use the old style connector.
From my perspective, the GSMA announcement and others from China and the OMTP are very significant moves toward the reduction of unnecessary power adapters. The important universal interface is not the load side, but the power supply side. The iPhone power supply uses a standard USB-A connector. Therefore, I can use the power cord that comes with my iPhone to power it. But, I can use the power cord that came with my Bluetooth headset to charge my headset. I can also charge my digital camera with the same power adapter, using a standard USB cable. One charge, not three.
That’s the beauty of interoperability.
A more difficult challenge is to reduce the number of non-5V power adapters needed for notebook PCs, printers, digital picture frames, routers and the dozens of products in our homes and offices. Since they all require different power levels (unlike cell phones and the low power devices mentioned in this article), we advocate a universal power model where power adapters dynamically configure themselves to the products connected to them. This will lead to more convenient power adapters and significantly reduce the waste. How many power adapters are currently thrown away when they are in perfect working order simply because they are compatible with just one product? We can stop this.
Green Plug, Inc.
So last week, my wife and I went on a trip out of town for a few days. But I just happened to leave my charger at home. Fortunately enough, she happened to have hers which is the same Micro USB one I have.
This time last year, if I had forgot my charger, my battery would have been dead because the 2 phones we have used different chargers. Maybe I would have been able to buy one at the ATT store, but its unlikely they would have carried it as they don't carry chargers that are 2 years old. And had I lost the charger all together? I'd have to order one from the manufacturer which could cost me as much as buying a new phone in some cases.
So.. am I for a universal charger? Yes. I lose things all the time.. I forget where I've placed something. And its nice to not have to carry a million cables with me every where. I carry a laptop now, its power cable and a travel USB cable that has MicroUSB on it. My wife can have a phone she likes and we can share chargers.
I'm sure that there is the benefit elsewhere, but is it really needed when something like this should be praised for convenience?
On a side note: Apple won't change from its 30pin connector due to the flood of iPod accessories that have flooded our market. Can you imagine if Apple changed to MicroUSB? That would devastate the iPod Accessorie market and upset a lot of customers who spent 500 bucks on that Bose Radio with iPod Dock.