By Ben Stallings on Mon, 06/29/2009
The European Union just made a deal with mobile phone manufacturers to have only one, standard charger for future phones, and they hope to expand the standard to cameras and laptops. Can I get an amen? That raises the prospect that with a single charger like the one pictured at right, and a set of interchangeable prongs for different countries' outlets, you could charge any of your gadgets anywhere in the world.
Things have been moving this way for a while; I now carry only two dongles around with me instead of five or more because most of my gadgets (including my iPod Touch) can get their power from USB. The next question is, can we get the manufacturers to agree on a standard cable -- say, mini-USB -- so I don't have to carry five or six cables to go with my USB dongle? And I'm thinking specifically of Apple here.
I had thought Apple might be moving in that direction, since the iPod/iPhone connector is basically just USB anyhow; switching future models to the standard mini-USB port would be trivial. But then a few months ago the new iPod Shuffle came out with -- what the heck? -- only what appears to be a headphone jack. No mini-USB, no iPod connector, though there's room for either or both on the tiny gadget. And then of course it turns out not to be a standard headphone jack, which you could use with all your standard headphones, but instead a USB port disguised as a headphone jack. The new headphones are essentially a USB device, but rather than use a mini-USB port to connect them, Apple chose to create a new port that's incompatible with everything ever. It's a big raspberry to both the USB standard and the headphone jack standard, and why? So Apple can sell licensing rights to their headphone technology, apparently -- and simultaneously generate demand for it by guaranteeing that nothing else will work with an iPod Shuffle.
So getting back to the topic, my hope is that, as with Microsoft's antitrust violations, EU legislation can succeed where common decency has failed and persuade Apple to stop wasting its inventive genius on reinventing the wheel (standard ports and jacks) and focus instead on inventing better things to plug into standard ports and jacks.