Think, for a moment, of how many cell phone power cables you have owned during the past decade or so. I have no clue either.
It’s a huge drain on resources and an environmental nightmare. For the past few years, there has been interest in developing a universal standard for recharging devices. This would greatly enhance convenience and, far more importantly, put a stop to the massively unsound practice of manufacturing and dispensing millions upon millions of power cables per month.
It makes perfect sense, and it’s been a goal for years. But it still hasn’t gotten done. Businessweek offers a story this week about one approach to the problem, which is wireless charging. Essentially, if devices can be re-juiced without a physical connection, the problem of a mountain of wired chargers can be systematically reduced and eventually eliminated.
The technology is pretty well baked, judging from a field test described at the beginning of the story. The problem is that the wireless approach seems to be immature from the business perspective. There are three groups vying to become the standard: the Power Matters Alliance, the Wireless Power Consortium and the Alliance for Wireless Power. The techniques pushed by each are incompatible and, since each seems to have some heavy hitters in its lineup, it may take a while to sort through it all.
The other option is to standardize wired recharging equipment. Thus, people would move from phone to phone, but use the same recharging equipment. The Times India has a post this week about a far older approach, which dates from an International Telecommunication Union initiative in 2009. It seems simple enough:
Nokia has quietly introduced DC-16 chargers, which use micro-USB as a standard. Any device compliant with USB charging can take advantage of these chargers. “The DC-16 chargers are designed to charge all smartphones made by BlackBerry and Samsung besides those manufactured by Nokia,” said director – south markets for Nokia India, T S Sridhar. In case you happen to forget your own charger, you could still use someone else’s. It gets even better as micro-USB is also used for data transfer.
Entrepreneurs have stepped into the breach, of course. For instance, CellularOutfitter offers a device that can use three power sources — wall outlets, the USB port of a PC or a vehicle cigarette lighter outlet — to charge devices. The Swiss Army knife-looking contraption has several adapter choices that together support hundreds of mobile devices.
The wisdom of alleviating the pressure on manufacturers and the environment by radically reducing the number of chargers produced is a bit of a no-brainer. Hopefully, either — or both — the wired or wireless approaches will catch on. Indeed, it is long past time for this to happen. At this point, it seems that devices produced by vendors outside the standards realm have the advantage.