Quick question: How many cell-phone chargers are there in your home? If you're like most people these days, you've got a few surplus ones lying at the bottom of a drawer. You can't use them, because they only fit a phone you no longer have. But it somehow seems wrong to just toss them in a landfill. Wouldn't it make sense for every phone to use the same kind of charger?
It could be that way, if only we lived under one-world government, which they almost do in Europe, as Ars Technica tells us:
Cellphone battery dead? No problem: Just borrow a charger from a friend. Oh, wait — you can’t, because your friend doesn’t have the same phone as you, and his charger won’t work with your phone.
That annoyance will end next year, for Europeans at least. Thanks to the efforts of the European Commission, most cellphones sold in Europe will have a one-size-fits-all charger starting in 2011. So far, 10 major cellphone makers, including Apple, Motorola, Samsung and Research In Motion, have signed on to the agreement.
Americans will have to wait. Without a government agency setting a deadline, it’s up to handset makers to make the switch to a single standard. All consumers can do is let their old chargers gather dust in a drawer, while hoping manufacturers will eventually converge on a standardized charger.
Obviously, this kind of heavy-handed government can, in the wrong circumstances, stifle innovation. But there's nothing innovative about the fact that a Motorola charger uses a different tip than an Apple charger or a Blackberry charger. The companies gain no competitive advantage from having their chargers be useless on anyone else's phone (or even their own newer models). The European Union seems to be convincing the companies to do now what they'll probably get around to doing here eventually.
And while we're on the subject, here's today's consumer tip: The next time you buy a phone, the sales people are going to try to sell you on an accessory pack that includes a car charger, a silicone case, and some other little things. In the phone store this will cost you about $40. Go on Ebay or Amazon and you can buy the exact same set for about $6, from a guy whose brother works in the factory in Singapore that makes them. Viva globalization.
-- Paul Waldman