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Electronics Standards Body Proposes a Universal Charger for Laptops

By Wesley Fenlon

Save us from the vast sea of unique chargers, IEC!

The first decade of the 2000s was a dark, dark time for cell phone chargers. As millions of people started carrying cell phones for the first time, millions of people realized that their charger seemed to be uniquely bonded with their phone. No two chargers were alike. And if you ever lost yours, the only recourse was an expensive replacement or a third-party knock-off that came with 30 different charging tips, one of which might work with your phone.

USB saved us. Micro USB swept all those unique chargers away, standardizing charging for Android and Windows Phone and other devices like the Kindle. The terror of phone chargers has been reigned in. The next battleground: Laptops. Ars Techinca reports that the IEC, or International Electrotechnical Commission, has announced the first specification for a universal laptop charger.

"This new IEC Technical Specification covers critical aspects of external chargers for notebook computers, their connector and plug, as well as safety, interoperability, performance and environmental considerations," the announcement states. "In 2011, the IEC published the first globally relevant Standard for a universal charger for data enabled mobile phones. This work was accomplished in the IEC with relevant input by CENELEC and ITU-T, with which the IEC has a long-standing cooperation agreement (NB (EU only): today, 82% of European Standards in electrotechnology are identical or based on IEC International Standards)."

The IEC plans to publish the standard in early 2014. If major laptop makers--and let's be honest, PC laptop makers--adopt the IEC's guidelines, laptop charging will be much easier, but that's only one benefit of the standardization. More importantly, the standard will prevent waste by keeping useless chargers out of landfills. The IEC estimates that half a million tons of chargers are thrown away every year. Anything that cuts down on that number is a welcome innovation. Even if Apple doesn't get on board.