Ever lost your cell phone charger, or forget to take it along on vacation, when you need it most? Usually, a quick trip to the nearby discount store will remedy the situation, assuming the store keeps sufficient variety of over a dozen different connectors to plug into whatever brand and model of phone you have. It used to be that each company standardized to one connector design: my first Motorola StarTac phone had a flat connector that worked really well. But the connector wouldn’t fit on most of today’s phones, it was just too big! So I understand a need for smaller connectors. But the electronics manufacturers are not just making smaller connectors to accommodate smaller designs, it seems that they are inventing new connectors to accommodate company profits with new proprietary designs for data connections and for AC/battery charger connections.
In the AudioVisual department where I work, we have four Kodak digital cameras, four JVC mini-DV video cameras, and four Canon mini-DV video cameras. These are used by students and staff for various purposes throughout campus, being checked in and out many times weekly. In this process, cables and power adapters get misplaced, broken and lost. What becomes extremely frustrating is the move away from standardized parts towards very specialized connectors, not just for each brand but with many different connector types within a brand (referred to as proprietary connectors or proprietary parts). Why do they do this?
Contrary to cost trends in some other consumer products, many electronic products have not increased in cost at the rate of inflation. In fact, many items have significantly dropped in price, partly due to fierce competition between manufacturers. Consumers want lower prices, and the big name brands in consumer electronics have delivered! The technology in a cell phone, GPS, mp3 player, still or video camera is quite an exceptional value for the price paid. Then in order to recover some of the profits lost to the competitive environment, I suggest that manufacturers have expanded on an idea that which I often accredit to Sony of selling proprietary accessories for products, forcing patrons to purchase genuine replacement parts and cables simply because no one else makes the cable or power adapter!
Ironically, many of these cables could be identical, saving consumers from needing to purchase a new car charger every time they purchase a new cell phone. The voltages are the same, and power capacity is nearly identical. But dealers like being able to sell a new charger for a new phone (which might be free from the cellular provider). So the “free” new phone brings a sales opportunity to the dealer…even though the customer’s accessories are fully functional, most of them will not transfer to a new phone (or to a new cellular carrier, for that matter). Logic has been thrown out the window, creating needless waste and expense for the consumer. And not just the old chargers and batteries get thrown away, so does a lot of (usually plastic clamshell) packaging adds to the load on our landfills.
I can remember the “old days” when manufacturers used common sense with round DC power connectors. Hmm, maybe this idea came from the Industrial Revolution, which I learned about in elementary school, with the wonderful idea of standardized parts. Laptop computers often used one size of these, and in those times the 12-volt power supply from one laptop would work with most others. Many now have adapted to proprietary power connectors, forcing the consumer to be careful in selecting the correct Power Supply or it won’t fit the connector on their model. But standardized parts do not have the profit potential for the manufacturers that proprietary parts do! And manufacturers have convinced stores and dealers that selling new accessories with new electronic gadgets helps them make money, too, despite having to dedicate walls full of countless charges, cables, and other accessories.