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EU Begins Voluntary Cellphone Charger Harmonization

March 4, 2011

In February, the EU announced what they termed “cellphone charger harmonization”.  The aim of this new program is to implement a common micro-USB charger for all data-enabled cellphones in the EU. Surprisingly, many of the top cell phone producers including Nokia, Apple, Research in Motion (makers of Blackberry), Motorola, Samsung, LGE, Sony-Ericsson have voluntarily agreed to be signatories of the Memorium of Understanding (MoU).

The reduction of technological waste was one of the driving factors in this project. Members of the EU commission have pointed out that  bundling a new charger with every new cell phone purchased creates a huge amount of orphaned, unwanted cell phone chargers that will ultimately end up in landfills or other waste facilities. The goal of this project is to eventually phase-out the automatic coupling of the two products with the hope that people will continue to use the same charger for several cell phone purchases as well as to encourage members of the same household to share chargers.

Though not explicitly mentioned, one other possible benefit to the average consumer is the near elimination of “emergency” cell phone charger purchases for forgotten cellphone chargers while traveling or other situations. In fact, perhaps this could eliminate the need to bring chargers outside of the home – hotels, workplaces and other public facilities would be able to begin to provide “courtesy” chargers.

It will be particularly interesting to see what sorts of design changes will occur to European cellphones in order to comply with the new standard – many of the major producers have their own, very specific plug-in .  The wide iPod/iPhone style plug-in has become an Apple institution providing compatibility between different generations of both devices and creating a particular Apple brand architecture instantly identifiable  by nearly everyone. By joining the common charger is Apple somehow giving up a bit of its image of individualism (and perhaps a bit of exceptionalism) it has spent huge sums emphasizing and branding? One of the particular appeals of the Apple brand to many consumers is how the smallest details, such as the charger, are well designed and aesthetically pleasing – will it still be cool to charge that iPhone with an generic looking charger?

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