A plug for sanity

Mobile-phone chargers are ugly, annoying and environmentally dangerous. The fewer of them, the better

Nothing should be more trivial than the shape of the power connector on your mobile phone. A bit of engineering for structural strength, plug retention, voltage and current, and that should be that.

If only. Instead, this tiny point of low technology has been behind the most enduring and annoying consumer rip-off of recent years. With certain honourable exceptions, mobile-phone companies change their charger connectors at the release of every other model, leaving users with enough redundant power bricks to build a housing estate. The waste is enormous, not to mention the risk of blowing an expensive phone up by plugging in the wrong charger and the hassle of finding a compatible charger when away from home.

This nonsense benefits the manufacturers at the expense of the consumer — and the planet. If you need a new or second charger, you'll have to buy one instead of reusing an old one, and at a substantial percentage of the cost of the phone. It's common practice to price accessories with a shockingly high margin to keep suppliers and retailers happy while screwing both to the wall over component costs and handset prices: constantly changing essential details keeps those accessories in play.

Not only does this cost us more in the long run, it leaves the handset makers in control of the market. If the end result was just a matter of ripping off the punters, then caveat emptor would apply. These days, though, the stakes are raised through the environmental consequences. Billions of mobile-phone users means billions of surplus power supplies, and all for lack of a common standard.

We therefore welcome the move by the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) forum to choose micro-USB as the standard for future devices. As the OMTP represents the makers of some 85 percent of handsets, this will rapidly create the same critical mass as we've seen with USB on the desktop: more gizmos, less money, saner planet.

An important solution to a trivial problem. Now, about those data-roaming charges...