The spaghetti-like nightmare that forms many users' collection of phone chargers, headset connectors and data cables could be set to end after a major mobile industry forum agreed to standardise on one type of connector.
On Monday the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) — a forum dominated by operators but including manufacturers such as Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and LG — announced that its members had agreed on micro-USB as the future common connector.
Micro-USB, which is thinner than the currently ubiquitous mini-USB standard and therefore better suited to the ever-shrinking dimensions of mobile phones and other consumer electronics, was introduced to the world by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) at the start of this year. Like mini-USB, the standard also makes it possible to charge phones from PCs.
"The USB-IF was first to recognise a clear market need for a universal data and charging mechanism for devices," said USB-IF president Jeff Ravencraft. "We are pleased to see OMTP support the USB technology as the standard for connectivity in the mobile space."
Markku Verkama, director of portfolio planning for Nokia's technology platforms division, said the decision would have wide-reaching benefits for the industry and consumers. "With the reduction of cables needed for mobile data connectivity, we can further enhance user experiences in our devices while reducing the burden to the environment."
Telecoms analyst Dean Bubley, of Disruptive Analysis, pointed out the possible implications for some manufacturers. Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk on Thursday, he explained that proprietary interfaces helped manufacturers control the market for accessories, which can be quite high-margin.
However, he also suggested that having a standard connector might be in manufacturers' best interests due to environmental reasons. The EU's WEEE directive makes manufacturers responsible for some of the costs associated with recycling their equipment, and a broadly applied standard could remove the need for a new charger to be distributed with every phone or accessory.
"This is cheaper to the manufacturer, and also results in a smaller, less heavy box — which reduces on shipping costs, storage costs, warehouse costs and so on," said Bubley. "It has got to have beneficial effects for everyone."
Nick Allott, chief technical officer for the OMTP, agreed that manufacturers stood to gain more through standardisation than they would lose: "The very fact that our membership was prepared to sit down and agree in the first place shows that the benefits outweigh the marginal competitive advantage that individual manufacturers might have had."
"We're speeding up the inevitable," Allott added, pointing out that the Chinese government has also recently mandated micro-USB as the future national standard for phone chargers. "OMTP itself has no power to do anything, but by making that statement that includes our membership — representing about 85 percent of the GSM market — we are making a strong public statement that, as an industry, this is the way we want to go."