Jun 30th, 2009

Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, LG, NEC, Qualcomm, RIM, Samsung and Apple have all signed an agreement to make MicroUSB the standard charging/connectivity technology in Europe. This is awesome news for Euroconsumers who no longer have to worry about buying/matching proprietary cables from various manufacturers and it is surely an environmental victory as consumers frequently discard used cables that are in perfectly working condition simply because they aren’t compatible with their current phone.

Don’t know exactly what MicroUSB is? See the picture below which compares MicroUSB to MiniUSB.


This image comes from Gizmodo who have also put together an entire Cable Explainer Guide that will leave you with no more connection questions. Read it and bookmark it – great little resource!

The initial benefits are quite obvious:

“People will not have to throw away their charger whenever they buy a new phone,” said EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, estimating that unwanted phone accessories accounted for thousands of tons of waste in Europe each year.

But a couple years down the road, when folks already have a few MicroUSB chargers, there will be a further savings and environmental benefits since new phones won’t need to be sold with new cables – they’ll be sold separately. That way you’re not paying for something you don’t need, don’t want and will inevitably discard at some point:

The Commission hopes that as people discard their old handsets, within three to four years all data-enabled phones in Europe will be using standardized chargers.

New data-enabled phones will come with a standardized charger but after an unspecified time the two items will be sold separately, industry group DigitalEurope said.

I understand that “micro” is smaller than “mini” but I actually prefer the MiniUSB. It just seems easier to connect and sturdier, which for me has resulted in less wear and tear on the connection port and inherently less problems. The benfits of having a European standard far outweigh my own personal preference, so I’ll live.

It has been noted that Apple – who agreed to these terms – has a proprietary 30 pin connection that will be disrupted by the new standard. Speculation is that they’ll provide an adapter that will prevent the need for a hardware overhaul and/or redesign. But this is just speculation – there are several other options.

The companies involved in the agreement make up 90% of the European handset market – a pretty staggering percentage given its the intial agreement, but I suppose an overwhelming majority is needed for a “standard” to exist – otherwise it is just a favorite. And of course the big question now is when will other countries, like the United States (hello please), follow suit?

Many bloggers and journalists today are asking the question why in the heck did this take so long and why won’t manufacturers in other countries follow suit TODAY. I applaud the efforts of these companies in the EU but I can completely understand the hesitation or even reluctance to enter into such an agreement.

First of all you’ve got opportunity cost. Like it or not these agreements take time and that is time that could be spent doing something else.

Second you’ve got manufacturing costs (monetary and design based) – if you haven’t been using whatever will become the “standard” you’ve got to put resources into implementing this new standard the most efficiently, effectively and attractively.

Third there is no ROI – by making this decision you’re cutting off a source of revenue in accessories.

Fourth you’re limiting your future – look at how excited consumers were over Palm’s Touchstone Charger. By agreeing to use MicroUSB you’re also suggesting that developing an innovative, new solution to charging and connectivity is against your priorities while simultaneously accepting a barrier if you were able to create a better, proprietary solution.

All the above is part of Android’s brilliance…

The mobile market mostly consists of individual companies attempting to favorably differentiate and position their own products. Then you’re asking these highly differentiated companies to retroactively fit their unique products and offerings into a single hole. Android was created from scratch without these various strings and proprietary obligations, following the mantra “if its good for consumers, its good for Android”.

Obviously there are exceptions to the rule. Obviously we’re talking about hardware standards vs. software standards. But I think you can take the intricacies of the hardware challenges and the success of this European agreement and notice some strengths of Android that may help prevent similar complexities in the future.

I would love to hear how these companies settled on MicroUSB and wonder if agreements in other countries are currently taking place. And if so, will they also follow the MicroUSB standard? It would make sense since we’re talking about the same group of manufacturers and it will achieve more of the same positive results.

[Via Reuters]