Solving Yesterday’s Problem Tomorrow
Don’t you hate it when you get a new phone and all of your old chargers no longer work? Well, the EU intends to do something about it:
A common charger should be developed for all mobile phones sold in the EU, to reduce waste, costs and hassle for users, said MEPs voting on an update to EU radio equipment laws on Thursday. This draft has already been informally agreed with the Council of Ministers.
“The modernised Radio Equipment Directive is an efficient tool to prevent interference between different radio equipment devices. I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger. This serves the interests both of consumers and the environment. It will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually”, said rapporteur Barbara Weiler (S&D, DE).
There was a time when I might have welcomed this development. I once had a phone end up getting crushed and my “insurance plan” gave me a phone with a different brand that required a whole new set of chargers. The chargers, at the time, weren’t cheap.
But this is the equivalent of a parent yelling at his kid that he has to do his homework before he can leave the house… while the kid is sitting at his desk with his book open. This is a problem that has already, more-or-less, resolved itself. The apparent scam where every phone maker had a different and proprietary charger is pretty up, if there ever was a scam at all.
There already is a standard, called Micro-USB, and even dumb phones seem to be using it. Heck, even a lot of bluetooth earpieces use it. The only major holdout is Apple. But Apple has their own standard, which they’ve been sticking to for a while, replacing a standard that survived from the iPod to the iPhone. Plus, since they’re Apple, you can get charger cables relatively easily in a pinch. And once you have them, you can generally rely on them being good for multiple iterations until they come up with something they define as better.
It’s convenient for me that the Android devices all use a single charger, compatible with other devices, but it’s not without its own problems and isn’t (or shouldn’t be) permanent. On the first score, if I get a generic Micro-USB cable, it’ll work but often kind of shoddily. The connection won’t be firm, for instance, on generic cables. Some of the chargers don’t supply enough power. They’ll work in a pinch (usually), but I get and use Samsung OEM chargers when I can. The proposed EU regulation would do nothing to fix or standardized that, though, and I will still have chargers I use mostly for earpieces and others I use for phones.
And the thing is, I don’t want to be using these forever. Back when this idea was first floated, I was surprised that they went with Micro-USB instead of Mini-USB, which my phone at the time used and I considered to be better. It had more firm connections, wasn’t as fragile, and so on. But as it turned out it was too fat and Micro-USB was necessary for the slimming of devices. Super-thin devices are not my think, but they’re clearly what a lot of people want. At some point maybe someone will come up with an cable that has a thin barrel at the end that will take up even less space in the phone and be less fragile. But how much would they want to invest in something that isn’t compliant with the standard?
And for a problem that has been resolving itself for several years now. Apple will almost certainly continue to go its own way, but the Android makers have been converging on a single standard for a reason. People don’t want to replace the power cables they have if they switch phone brands. Since most phone brands want you to switch (to their brand, obviously), they have an incentive to use the standards. And if they have an even greater incentive to do something else, well maybe that’s a reason they should do it. The innovation isn’t done yet.