Thursday, August 28, 2008

Standards for chargers: Thank you China

An innocent question about organizing chargers produces and surprisingly good Slashdot discussion of power adapter standards.

Did you know China mandated USB only charging for cell phones (so is that why iPhone 2.0 dumped firewire)? Did you know there are people representing the charger industry who actively campaign against an EU standard? (Ok, so that was predictable.)

The ecology and economics of physical connector standards are fascinating; the irresistible force of consumer desire meets the immovable object of proprietary advantage and lock-in (the physical analogue of data lock). Consider the interesting examples of HP's printer cartridges, Apple's iPod connector, and the "authenticated" NEC battery.

Even though I wish the USB connector supported 12V instead of 5V, I am very grateful for its emergence as the de facto universal charger interface. I make USB charging support a very high priority -- which is why the RAZR's quasi-USB support drove me bats (yay BlackBerry, half-yay iPhone/Palm).

All very well, but what about China? This USB standardization is the kind of thing Singapore would do (smart, tyrannical), but when China does it they do it for the world -- much as California's emission standards become the North American rule.

Those anti-standard lobbyists will need bigger offices in Beijing.

Thanks China.

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