My Kingdom for a Universal Charger

These days, personal electronic devices are popping out of the woodwork, each device more indispensable than the last: PDAs, mobile phones, iPods, digital cameras; the list goes on. With each device, you can’t help but wonder how you ever got by without it. They really do make our lives easier, more convenient, more fun.

I wouldn’t consider myself to be a “gadget-mad” kind of guy. I have a mobile phone, a PDA, a laptop, a digital camera (an ancient Sony DSC-P51 – once state-of-the-art in the “snap-happy tourist” league but now noticeably chunky and underpowered) and one or two slightly odd gadgets that I’ve never quite worked out what they’re really for. My “personal gadget count” is about average, I’d say.

And yet, I seem to be inundated with chargers of different shapes and sizes. They’re all fiddly and impractical, they all have lengths of tangled wire sticking out of them, they all get worryingly hot when used, they all serve pretty much exactly the same purpose… and they’re all incompatible. It’s impossible to take the charger for my mobile phone and use it with, say, my battered old Sony Clie.

How many times have you had to charge up your mobile phone or PDA at the office, but you couldn’t because the charger was still at home? It means you have to plan ahead, make sure everything’s charged up for the day ahead (or that all the chargers are in the locations where you’re expecting to be at various points during the day). The alternative is to buy a second charger for each device and keep it at the office, but of course doing so effectively doubles the number of chargers. Not a nice solution!

If I want to go on holiday or (heaven forbid) on a business trip, I have to pack at least 5 different chargers (“Only 5?” I hear you gasp). They seem to take up much more space than the devices themselves, and they’re difficult to pack because you have to coil up the rebellious cables and jam each charger into the suitcase at funny angles.

In this world of standards and purported interoperability, I find it amazing that electronics manufacturers have goofed up over such an obvious usability flaw.

Wouldn’t it be great if personal electronic gizmos all used the same, standard, fully compatible charger? The charger which is supplied with your new Nokia phone would be interchangeable with the charger for your Sony digital camera, and so on. Just think about what the world would be like if such a miraculous dream were to come true.

You wouldn’t have to keep plugging and unplugging chargers from the mains; just use the same one.

You’d be able to take just one charger with you on holiday. You might not even need to do that, as you’d naturally expect the hotel to provide at least one standard charger in each hotel room. The more expensive hotels could even provide two, or (steady yourself) three standard chargers, so you can charge your devices in parallel.

Taking your sleek, tiny, ultra-convenient mobile phone with you really would mean simply taking your mobile phone with you; not the bulky, overheating charger and its tangled cable as well. Just imagine packing your suitcase, and simply chucking in your phone, PDA etc, and not having to worry about chargers.

I dream of such a world; and it’s ridiculous that such a world doesn’t exist here and now. Device manufacturers, if any of you happen to be listening…

On a moderately related note, the new lithium-ion battery technology from Toshiba looks to be pretty exciting. Of course, it doesn’t remove the need for a charger, but (in addition to the speedy 1-minute charging) it also presents an unprecedented opportunity for the big electronics manufacturers to get together and standardise on a single charger design for electronics devices. Naturally they’ll miss this chance to get it right, and continue to plague us with this rather pointless “proprietary charger lock-in”; but we can dream…

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.