I’m a big fan of the EU. For all its flaws, it has kept the peace for decades. Not only does it prevent physical wars – but it reduces the harm caused by companies warring against each other.
Like most legislatures, it works on glacial timelines. Not only tackling the problems of the past, but also assuming the future is static.
In the fast moving technology industry, this has been a mixed blessing. Mandating the need for a physical SIM and ensuring phones can be unlocked has kept EU customers in a much better position than the Americans, for example.
Not withstanding the bizarre quest to shrink SIMs even as phones are getting larger, I think it’s uncontroversial to say that this standard has helped drive innovation and made customers’ lives much easier.
So the EU has taken a look at the next proprietary battle – charging sockets!
You may not remember this, dear reader, but when I started in this industry every phone manufacturer had their own charging standard. Nokia used a barrel connector, Sony Ericsson had this strange sprung multi-pin socket which doubled as a headphone port, Samsung had a long flat connector which was just a bit wider than Panasonic’s visually similar connector, and BlackBerry had a stubby like port which was the almost USB shaped.
It was a horrible mess. Buying a new phone meant throwing away your existing chargers – sometimes even if your new device was made by the same manufacturer as the old.
Then USB came along. Without a doubt one of the reasons for its popularity was that it could carry both power and data. One less port to solder onto a handset.
Oh, yeah, didn’t I mention? Every phone had their own non-standard data plug as well. Fun times!
Slowly, manufacturers standardised on Mini-USB. And, just when that got settled, they moved en-mass to Micro-USB.
The EU then mandated the bloody obvious; all phones must use Micro-USB for charging.
Well, not quite. They said that all devices must be able to be charged via USB and, if they don’t have a suitable port, must provide a free adapter.
Apple, being the extra special precious snowflakes of the technology world went down the adapter route. And then, once everyone had an Apple-to-USB dongle, went and changed their charging port to a completely different standard. Thus, at a stroke, proving how useful mandated standards are.
Now the EU wants to actually mandate a single charger for all devices by 2016. No adapters, dongle, or exemptions. You sell in the single market, you don’t force the customer into your accessory ecosystem.
(Incidentally, when the iPhone first came out, it had a non-standard headphone socket! There’s nothing those slimey fuckers won’t do to make a quick buck. Luckily, market pressure forced them to relent and adopt the standard 3.5mm jack.)
I, however, think the EU are too late. I believe the portless phone is overdue.
Consider, for a moment, the ports on your phone. The headset socket is now obsolete due to Bluetooth. The need for a cable for data transfer is also redundant due to Bluetooth and WiFi. Memory sockets are nice – but if manufacturers would reduce the size of their bloated operating systems and just shove a decently sized memory chip in there in the first place, there’s no need for them.
That just leaves power.
There are currently three competing standards for wireless charging. Naturally, all are incompatible with each other.
What’s especially frustrating is that most modern phones support wireless charging (of some form or other) but don’t come with the necessary kit in the box. My Galaxy Note 3, for example, requires me to buy a small sliver of metal and plastic to slip between the batter and the cover – total cost of about £5.
Oh, and then a charging station for £20.
Which may be incompatible with phones from other manufacturers…
Imagine, just for a moment, that the EU could force the market to adopt a single remote charging standard and then mandate that all phones come with the requisite technology to take advantage of it. How wonderful would that be?
Wires are so 19th Century.