It is something that has just about happened with mobile phones. After years of each handset manufacturer having their own proprietary power connection that could not be used with any other phone, there has been a gradual move to the universal inclusion of a microUSB charging port so that chargers can be used on more than one device -- and when a handset dies, the charger can live on. Now it looks as though something similar could happen with laptops.
You must have noticed that just about every laptop, tablet and notebook has its own charger and the chances are that you will not own any other device that could share it. Should a charger fail, it is unlikely that you'll have a suitable replacement to hand, even if you own two or more laptops. If your phone's USB charger breaks, you probably have several other USB chargers lying around that you could use instead.
A lot of people simply do not bother to replace a laptop charger that breaks. Rather than pumping money into an older computer, it is quite common to simply move on an buy a new computer and this creates a great deal of electronic wastel
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is to publish specifications in early 2014 for a universal charger that could be used on multiple devices. Headng on a roadtrip with a selection of laptops? You could get away with taking a single charger! It's not yet clear how much interest there is from hardware manufacturers, but it could prove popular.
There's something of a Catch 22 situation when it comes to developing a universal piece of hardware like this. It would involve a large number of hardware manufacturers working together to decide on a standard which could lead to a split market similar to the scenario that arose when HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs were battling to be accepted as a standard.
The Swiss IEC is publishing proposed standards in the hope that is will be adopted by hardware manufacturers in future devices. There is a long way to go, but the first steps are being made.
It is an idea that Microsoft could learn from with its range of Surface device. These all feature unique magnetic charging ports which are not used by another other piece of hardware. It would be great if the third generation Surface could be charged via microUSB, or if Microsoft chose to adopt the proposed universal charger.
For Surface, as well as other laptops, the adoption of a universal charger could help to reduce the cost of hardware. Laptops could be sold at a slightly reduced prices without a charger for anyone who already has another unit at home that could be shared between a couple of devices.
Do you think this is a step in the right direction? Do you like the idea of being able to ditch some cables by sharing a charger?