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Support grows for universal power adapter

James Niccolai | June 17, 2008
Consumer electronics maker Westinghouse to use "smart power" technology that lets people use a single "universal adapter" to power their laptops, cell phones and other electronics gear.

A whopping 434 million consumer electronics devices are "retired" in the U.S. each year, including 130 million cell phones, said Lefebre. In many cases, those products, along with their chargers and power adapters, end up in landfills, he said.

Some vendors don't have an incentive to eliminate power supplies and connector cables, because they get a supplementary revenue stream from selling replacements, Lefebre noted. He cited Apple Inc., which uses a proprietary connector for the iPod, as a prime example.


Problems Abound

There are other hurdles, too. Motorola Ventures investment manager Code Cubitt, speaking on a panel here, said product managers are fixated on providing a good "out of the box" experience. If the company ships a product without an adapter, and the consumer doesn't have a universal adapter at home, it can create a bad impression of the company, Cubitt said.

Another issue is liability. If a company ships a product, and a consumer plugs it into another vendor's universal adapter, and it starts a house fire, all the parties involved could find themselves in court. That problem will be lessened if the vendor can show that the product conforms to an industry standard, said Armando Castro, a lawyer at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

In China, where 500 million cell phones were manufactured last year, the government has regulated that all cell phone chargers, including those imported, have a standard USB interface and output voltage, so consumers don't need a new one with every new phone.

Such regulations are unlikely in the U.S., but if the industry doesn't work together, the federal government may start to intervene in some way, the speakers said.

Green Plug offers its firmware to electronics makers for free so they can make their devices support its power specification, and it hopes to make money by licensing the technology to chip makers. The cost to vendors to include the technology in each device will be about US$2, Paniagua said.

 

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