Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

07.2.2020 Fairfax Tech Talk Column 184


Do me a favour. Go to your desk or office or wherever it is that you keep your electronic goods. Open the bottom drawer. Move aside all the old mobiles and electronic devices you have tucked away in there. Now find the cables. How many do you have there and, more importantly, how many different connection types do you have?

If the answer is less than four types, I will be surprised. Micro-USB; Lightning; USB-C; Mini-USB; USB-3; 30-pin and so many more including many proprietary connectors. Each manufacturer claimed that their connector was superior and it was needed to achieve the full performance of the device but the cynics in our society often saw it as either a revenue raiser or a way to lock you into one brand.

One of the reasons we end up with so many connectors is that every new device comes with a charger. Imagine the negative publicity that a company would receive if it started selling a device where the cable was NOT included. It is annoying on Christmas Day when the new toys you purchase for your kids don’t include batteries but imagine if the new phone you bought had no charger?

Well that is exactly what the Members of the European Parliament have just voted in favour of. With a vote of 582 to 40 the resolution for a single universal charging solution was a comprehensive victory for those in favour of this solution to reduce e-waste.

This has been a campaign waged for the last decade with an estimation that obsolete cables generate more than 51,000 tonnes of waste per year. When the campaign started, there were more than thirty different charging solutions. In effect, the resolution decouples the sales of devices and chargers. What a concept.

On the plus side, it should marginally reduce the cost of our new purchases (granted – the chargers don’t cost the manufacturers a lot) and it should reduce the clutter in our drawers. I can also see innovative charging solutions with devices that charge multiple devices with a common connector. It also helps when you arrive at work or visit a friend and need a charger – you know there is going to be a common charger available.

On the negative side it has been argued (mainly by Apple, who have the most to lose) that it will stifle innovation. Apple has typically had a proprietary charger (think of 30-pin and now Lightning) so it is another way for consumers to be locked into their ecosystem. You may accept Apple’s argument if their solution was light years ahead but when you consider the data transfer rate of a Lightning port is capable of about 480Mbps compared to that of USB-C which is 10Gbps or Thunderbolt which is 40Gbps then the argument falls a little flat.

Next steps? Assuming all goes well, it will eventually be mandatory for all devices sold in Europe to have the agreed upon charging port. Logically, once that occurs, I would assume that manufacturers will adopt that standard for all devices sold across the world. From a manufacturing perspective, it would not make a lot of sense to make a device for Europe and a device for the rest of the world.

With this victory, I would now strongly encourage the decoupling of remote controls from televisions. I am not sure what I have more of – old chargers or old remotes. Imagine a universal remote control that all televisions used and a purchase of a TV did not come with another remote. Tell me if you would vote for that at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson