Russell Beatie has a fascinating picture showing his wide array of devices recharging, which triggered in me something that has been disturbing me for a long time: why is it that every mobile device out there seems to have a different power plug?
There is no competitive advantage in offering a different charger and yet it seems that every vendor has come up with a different approach when it comes to the charging port. As a result, scores of users have to pack multiple chargers when they travel. Just off the top of my head, a typical user would generally pack different chargers for each of the following devices: laptop, mobile phone, camera, mp3 player, and PDA. Granted, a way to solve the problem is to aggregate devices (for example, as I do with the Treo, use a smart device that includes many of those functions) so you have to carry fewer chargers but ultimately, there’s always more than one and few people around with a charger that is compatible.
There is, however, a competitive advantage for vendors in establishing a standard. That advantage goes to the age old issue of price. If two players agreed to a similar set of power chargers, they could not force their vendor (chargers are generally subcontracted) to build them and then work on creating competitition between those vendors, hence putting pressure on prices. Innovation could then start appearing in that market as the vendors would be forced to look at features they could use to remain competitive. For example, one could see companies developing chargers that are smaller, recharge batteries faster, or consume less energy when converting power. In the future, one could even envision a world where “power charger not included” would become more of a de-facto rule from electronics vendors.
End users would, of course, benefit from this since they would be able to go anywhere and find a charger that is compatible with their devices. One could go to a conference, or visit friends, or go to a hotel and easily find a way to recharge. Furthermore, if one lost or forgot their charger somewhere, they would be able to easily replace the missing charger cheaply.
All and all, the current state of affairs when it comes to the power issue is sad and I wish the electronics industry would agree on coming up with a common standard and set of approaches when it comes to power, which would benefit everyone.