How many times have you rifled through a mass of tangled cables looking for the right charger? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if all gadgets came with a universal charger – so just how far off that day are we?
Working in the Tech Team at Which? means I’m regularly asked if I have a battery charger for an X, Y or Z.
Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, but I always have to check the knotted mass of cables in my drawer – and each time I do I ask, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if there were just one cable to rule them all?’
A couple of years ago things were even worse when each mobile phone handset had its own peculiar charging port. The proprietary charging port of Sony Ericsson mobile phones was, in my mind, the most unique, but the question I was asked the most was ‘do you have an old-style Nokia charger?’
USB – not so universal
And then came along the USB charger and I thought my complaints had been addressed – but it hasn’t been the case. While a USB port on a computer is (as the name suggests) universal, the other end of the cable is a little less uniformed. In fact, there are many different types of USB – and the charging device hasn’t been the panacea I had hoped for.
We have the type A, the type B, the micro A and the micro B, and also the mini A and the mini B, plus there are 8- and 5-pin varieties of the mini B. And then there are still all the manufacturer’s own models (think iPhone USB connection).
Many of them will have different properties, I concede, and each new development is an improvement on the previous version. Still, surely a truly universal and future-proof charger isn’t beyond the wit of humankind?
How far off are universal chargers?
It’s not an original question; it’s probably been asked countless times before, and it might not be long before we have an answer. Fourteen mobile phone companies, including Nokia, Apple and Samsung have pledged to make chargers to a common standard and we could see early models arriving any day.
So if smartphones can use a one-size-fits-all approach, surely the remaining technology manufacturers should follow? It would mean that mobile phones, tablets, portable gaming devices and cameras wouldn’t need to be packaged with chargers, which would save as much packaging as time spent rummaging in drawers.
But it would seem that USB’s days are numbered anyway and that the new interface rearing its head on the horizon may provide the universality that USB has failed to deliver. Light Peak is just around the corner and, beyond replacing USB connectivity, it’s likely to replace our beloved HDMI – let alone the age old VGA.
The technology will initially offer 10Gbit/s of bandwidth with the potential to deliver 100 Gbit/s by 2020 – that’s quite something compared with the 4800Mbits/s fastest USB speeds.
But I’ve begun to talk about data transfer and not just charging. There are a number of wireless charging devices that may gradually become more commonplace. They just don’t seem to have caught on yet, but each year at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas we see more wireless charging solutions. If pushed hard enough, one may hopefully become the new universal standard.