Universal Mobile Phone Chargers Coming in 2011, Says European Commission

Apple, Nokia, RIM and 11 others have made good on a promise to collaborate on a universal phone charger, now headed to Europe in early 2011.

The European Commission announced that the first universal mobile phone chargers should arrive in Europe during the first months of 2011.

The chargers, which will charge via micro-USB slots and be interoperable between brands, are result of a June 2009 agreement made by 14 leading mobile phone makers-Apple, Emblaze Mobile, Huawei Technologies, LGE, Motorola Mobility, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research In Motion, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Alcatel, Texas Instruments and Atmel. Following the agreement, the EC issued a mandate to the CEN-CENELEC and ETSI-two European standardization groups-requesting the development of European standards for the chargers, and two have since complied.

"I am very happy that the European [standardization bodies] have met our request to develop within a short space of time the technical standards necessary for a common mobile phone charger based on the work done by industry," Antonio Tajani, EC vice president for Industry and Entrepreneurship, said in a Dec. 29 statement. "Now it is time for industry to show its commitment to sell mobile phones for the new charger. The common charger will make life easier for consumers, reduce waste and benefit businesses. It is a true win-win situation."

The universal chargers will eliminate the need to throw away perfectly functioning chargers when switching mobile phone brands-a boon to the environment. Plus, manufacturers will no longer need to include a charger with a new phone, enabling them to create smaller packaging and to ship more on fewer trucks-good, again, for the environment, as well as for the manufacturers.

Eliminating chargers from new phone sales should also drop the price a bit-good again for consumers. And while manufacturers will feel an "initial pinch," from this, analyst Neil Mawston with Strategy Analytics told eWEEK at the time of the agreement, in the long-term it should be offset by the savings they're able to achieve through "leaner manufacturing and simpler logistics."

Finally, still another plus for consumers-forgetting one's charger won't need to translate to having a dead phone. Borrowing a charger will suddenly be much easier.

Not every phone will work with universal chargers, however-only those that are data enabled, meaning that they can be plugged into a computer to exchange documents, photos, music, etc. Which, according to the agreement (officially called a Memorandum of Understanding, or MoU), is expected to soon be most phones.

What exactly will be the benefit to the environment has yet to be tallied, though the MoU expects a general reduction in e-waste-which the United Nations Environment Programme earlier this year estimated to be approximately 40 tons annually.

In a bit of side gossip, Apple was reportedly slow to come to the table in June, being a company that notoriously likes to do things its own way.

"Apple usually prefers to use its own proprietary technology, so it's not a surprise to see them dragging their heels a bit for an open standard," Mawston again said at the time. Don't be surprised, he added, to see Apple going for a "hybrid strategy." It could very choose to sell "its own proprietary charger with a micro-USB adapter."