Wouldn't it be nice if all our mobile gadgets connected to one universal charger? According to the vice president of the European Commission, Gunter Verheugen, it's not only possible, it's already on the drawing board.
Steps are being taken to standardise mobile-phone chargers, though a universal charger for all mobile devices will take longer. The Commission claims some of the credit for the agreement reached among mobile phone makers, which earlier this year said they would pursue a universal charger for all phones.
Verheugen welcomed the agreement signed by 10 phone makers, including all the biggest names in the industry - including iPhone maker Apple, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, BlackBerry's Research in Motion and Samsung - that account for more than 90 percent of all Europen mobile phone sales. However, he said that if the industry had failed to reach a voluntary agreement, the Commission would have drafted legislation ordering the standardisation of phone chargers.
Apple is notoriously reluctant to standardise components when it believes it has developed the best solution in house. The company's 30-pin iPhone and iPod charger doesnot work with any other mobile device, and no current uinversal charger works with those Apple products.
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Verheugen said the original plan was to push for a universal charger for all devices.
"It would have taken much longer [to get an agreement on one charger for all mobile devices], so we decided to tackle mobile phones first and at the same time we continue to discuss with the industry the other products," he said on Monday.
Inventing a small charger that powers a mobile phone and a laptop is a challenge, the commissioner said.
Laptops require almost 100 times more electricity to charge than a mobile phone, he said.
Energy efficiency and safety issues must be overcome when developing a single charger for all gadgets, Verheugen said. "We are working on that, I hope it is possible," he said.
Bridget Cosgrave, director general of Digital Europe, a trade group representing IT manufacturers of a wide range of mobile devices, said it might be possible to duplicate the harmonised phone charger idea for other devices but added that there are no plans along those lines presently.
Cosgrave shared the podium with Verheugen at a press conference in Brussels. She didn't comment on the idea of one charger for laptops as well as smaller mobile divices.
Susan Smith, a spokesperson for Nokia, said the company "is not looking at this as a possibility", and added she isn't sure it would be technically possible given the varying power needs of different devices.
Mobile phones require around 1.5W while laptops need close to 100W. That's why a mobile phone charger is a tenth the size of a laptop charger.
Universal chargers for various devices already exist but they are the size of laptop chargers, so they waste a lot of energy if they are used just to charge a mobile phone.
There are currently between 350 millon and 400 million active mobile phones in circulation in the European Union, the Commission said. People are replacing their phones at a rate of 180 million per year.
The first generation of universal phone chargers will be distributed from around mid next year, Verheugen said. All phones will run off the universal charger within two to three years, the commissioner said.