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EU plays catch up on mobile single charger standard

Only 18 months after agreement reached

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The EU Commission has welcomed the mobile industry's commitment to using a single charging standard, only 18 months after the industry agreed it and two years after the Chinese government mandated it.

This time it's a Memorandum of Understanding to use Micro-USB signed by Apple, LG, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, RIM, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Texas Instruments. But like all the previous statements of intent towards a single charging solution, this one contains no guaranteed schedule or actual commitment from the companies involved.

The idea of using Micro-USB for everything was first mandated by the Chinese back in December 2006 (though without a timetable), and endorsed by the operator-led Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) in September 2007. The OMTP membership includes operators such as Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone, Telenor and T-Mobile, so it was no surprise to see them sharing a stage with Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson at 3GSM in February announcing that they had agreed to use Micro-USB as a standard charging connector.

Now the manufacturers - with the ranks swelled by Apple, Qualcomm, RIM and Texas Instruments - have presented the EU with their marvellous idea to use Micro-USB for all their mobile phones, an idea welcomed by the Commission.

Well... not all their mobile phones, that would be silly. Unusual form factors don't count, specifically wrist-watch phones, phones that don't support USB for data exchange are also excluded - but by 2010 all smart phones that already support USB connections should support charging over Micro-USB. The key word there being "should" - no one is committing to anything solid, but they promise to try.

The fact that few people have heard of Micro-USB (not to be confused with Mini-USB) doesn’t seem to bother anyone, but having a standard is to be applauded even if it's one that no one is presently using. It's good to see Apple finally joining the throng, but one has to wonder why it's all taking so long and if punters will be happy with the longer charging times that the use of USB demands.

Deciding to charge over USB doesn't require cross-industry agreement; our recently-arrived iRex electronic book came without a charger of its own. The manual curtly explains that one should use a USB connection, and if one wants a mains transformer then one could nip down to the shops and buy one. Hopefully it won't be long before the rest of our electronics come the same way. ®

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