Universal cellphone charger pantomime

The news out of the Mobile World Congress that has had everyone talking this past week was the announcement by the GSM Association (GSMA) that its members had agreed to produce a universal mobile charger.

To consumers with cupboards full of one-use-only chargers the news sounded too good to be true. Which is exactly what I expect it is.

There are a number of reasons that I suspect the plans for a universal charger won’t work. Here’s a few of those:

Lack of commitment

In its original statement the GSMA said that it had set an "ambitious target that by 2012 a universal charging solution (UCS) will be widely available in the market worldwide and will use Micro-USB as the common universal charging interface". 2012? That’s hardly ambitious. Not for an industry that releases a never-ending stream of increasingly powerful cellphones but can’t actually engineer a simple charging device that is multi-vendor compatible.

Besides, with most consumers upgrading their mobile phones every 18 to 24 months, that means that most users will have gone through at least two other mobile phones before they get one that has a universal charger. Setting a deadline of three years hence just sounds half-hearted.

Right now the GSMA says that it has chosen the Micro-USB format as the format for the universal charger. Which is great but with the universal charger almost three years away who says that Micro-USB will be the best option. Already this year we have seen solar-powered cellphones emerge and for a number of years now developers have been working on "power mats" which charge almost anything that come into contact with it.
It’s not that Micro-USB is a bad tool, it’s just too early in the day to say what will be best in 2012.

Apple is, typically, not going to join the party. That in itself won’t scupper the entire universal charger plan but will fragment it somewhat. Although Apple has a very small mobile phone market share at this point – a little over a percent – we can expect that to grow in the next three years. In all likelihood Apple will have multiple phones in the market in 2012 and Apple is not part of the GSMA, and unlikely to tow the universal charger line.

The idea of a universal mobile charger is a fantastic idea. It’s just a pity that it didn’t happen five years ago.

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Universal cellphone charger pantomime