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I'm sure you all have experienced the same problem. The scenario is simple. You have forgotten to take your cell phone's charger with you, and your phone is going to be turned off, because it lacks battery. You simply start asking all of your colleagues to see if they have a charger which suits your phone, and 2 out of 20 may have a similar charger.

The question is simple. Like 220W electric power cord, won't it a better experience for users to use the same charger to charge all kind of cell-phones? Why manufacturers don't use the same charger? Why there is no unity in the form of cell-phone chargers? Why there is no charger which could be used with all phones, just the way headphones are global?

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I think progress is being made towards a common connection type - but not sure where I heard this. –  Roger Attrill Dec 24 '11 at 11:49
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I think this belongs in another SE site. No real human-computer interaction here. –  Naoise Golden Dec 24 '11 at 14:10
    
Though OP talks of the experience of users, I am sure it is not what User Experience means on this site. The site title better have a tag line explaining the import of UX, just as some of the other SE sites do. –  Kris Dec 24 '11 at 14:48
    
OK, I read the faq another time, and it seems that my question might not really belong to this site. Though, the first item says that Description of the users' experience levels and goals. :). Any decision is welcomed here. –  Saeed Neamati Dec 24 '11 at 17:25
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I'd argue that there is a User Experience angle here: the 'Don't make me think' rule applies to physical things which plug into phones as well as to the software interface. Its certainly the EU's view: "Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industrial policy, said: "I am very pleased that industry has found an agreement, which will make life much simpler for consumers" –  PhillipW Dec 24 '11 at 21:34
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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The EU has plans to encourage manufacturers to use as common charger format:

common mobile phone charger 1

common mobile phone charger 2

This also has environmental benefits.

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I think it's more than plans. –  Tom Dec 25 '11 at 10:35
    
It's politics. "Either you pick one standard that you like, or we will pick one for you". Didn't have to progress to actual EU rules; micro USB was adopted. –  MSalters Dec 30 '11 at 12:10
    
Worth noting, though; the requirement is that you either use the standard or provide a dongle (as Apple has done). The latter makes things more inconvenient as far as I'm concerned. –  Kit Grose Feb 22 '12 at 11:10
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Yes, having a universal charger is surely more convenient - just like the fact you have the same voltage in every outlet in the region is more convenient that having a city divided into districts where some districts have 127 volts and others have 220 volts and outlets look uniform (that actually was in use in some cities in Soviet Union in the past).

The number one reason why there's no universal charger is manufacturers being greedy. Having a charger unique to a brand and/or model range lets them sell those chargers at a premium. For example, Nokia sells a 1280 phone with a battery and a charger for about 27 bucks in my region but a separate charger is sold for about 20 bucks. And if I attempt to use a third-party charger my phone warranty is deemed void. If third-party chargers were allowed this would be impossible.

The number two reason is this gives extra flexibility to the phone manufacturer. Should they decide to produce a phone that charges faster (say one hour) they have to supply it with a charger capable of such fast charging and such charger will usually be larger and heavier that a slower charger. Also if you use a charger that outputs less power with a phone that requires more power charging takes longer and that's not very convenient. When the manufacturer selects and locks you into the charger they can provide better user experience at expense of requiring you to use exactly the right charger.

Currently you can enjoy "universal" chargers if your device can charge via USB (micro-USB or any other variety). Since USB is a standard it doesn't matter if you plug your device into a charger with a USB connector or into a powered USB computer port. So there're no means for the device to know where the USB port resides.

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Awesome answer. Do you have a source for the Soviet Union anecdote? –  Patrick McElhaney Dec 27 '11 at 20:00
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@Patrick McElhaney: Here's a description of an old SU 127 volts mains-powered transformer davestrains.com/USSRtransA.html - it indirectly mentions that there were two voltages. Now here bolknote.ru/2011/08/26/~3378/#22 and here rt20.mybb2.ru/viewtopic.php?t=6654 (both in Russian only) people mention when their houses were converted exactly. Now given the fact that new houses were powered with 220 volts from the beginning it is clear that some houses were powered by 127 volts and some with 220 volts. –  sharptooth Dec 28 '11 at 7:04
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@Patrick McElhaney: And this article on a site of a company located in Russia artlebedev.com/mandership/106/#08 also mentions the fact directly. The text is dated year 2004, so it describes the situation of year 1984. I added this link into the answer. –  sharptooth Dec 28 '11 at 7:12
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Battery technology has really taken a rollercoaster ride the last 25 years with some great changes the last 10 years. So technology really hasn't had the time to catch up to a common format. The technology behind the actual charger changed a lot too.

Changes in battery density,size/formfactor, charging speed and temperature increases while charging are huge.

  • Charging an old battery in 60 minute would heat it up beyond its melting point.
  • Charging a modern battery in 60 minutes won't even heat it up a bit.
  • Older charges needed active cooling, modern chargers hardly heat up at all.
  • New charger take up much less materials to construct and are much cheaper(to produce)
  • Smaller plugs take less metal and are cheaper

User Experience

Making a charger that could potentially break an older battery should definitely not have a compatible plug. So making an uncommon plug would be a User Experience plus instead of an annoyance.

And this is just story about the charging plug, don't even begin to talk about changes in data transfer cables. Luckily for the users micro usb seems to be gaining a lot of traction as a generic data and power transfer mechanism.

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There are at least two reasons that come to mind:

  • Vendor lock-in: once you buy one Nokia phone for yourself, if you buy one for your partner, you'll both be able to use the car charger
  • Custom capabilities: the iPhone (especially) uses the charger for more than just charging; Apple's dock connector has audio and control pass-through, as well as power. Since phones aren't similar in their capabilities, it's hard to design a connector that is appropriate for all uses.
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