Universal mobile-phone charger on the way

Say goodbye to the tangle of wires next to the bed and in the junk drawer. And, industry officials and environmentalists hope, wave farewell to the heap of obsolete device chargers strangling landfills.

A major mobile-phone industry group has announced a plan in which, by 2012, most new phones will use micro-USB cables as their power cords. All the major handset makers, except for Apple, have agreed to the standard. That could mean no more hunting for the right dongle or throwing away chargers with each new phone.

Besides eliminating waste from discarded chargers, the group's standard would push cellphone manufacturers to develop adapters that are 50 percent more efficient, and cut down on so-called "vampire power" – the juice drawn when they're plugged in but already fully charged.

Woohoo, right? Yes, but with some reservations.

What about all the chargers in use now? Doesn't an industry shift to one standard create a mass charger dump that wouldn't otherwise have occurred? At this point, micro-USB is an obscure choice; many cameras and some phones, notably the Motorola Razr, use mini-USB.

And what about the hardship that devoted "legacy" handset users will face if their charger conks out and they can't get a replacement because, well, "You're supposed to use this kind now. It's new. Everyone else is doing it."  Instead of just a new charger, that person is now faced with buying a whole new phone. So much for lessening the impact on landfills.

Admittedly that argument has a certain curmudgeonly slant to it. But shouldn't the mobile phone industry look further than "let's all make the same charger"? Why not get behind more widespread support for innovations like the wireless charging stations shown at CES?

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