back to article EU wants one phone plug to rule them all. But we've got a better idea.

European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has lost patience with phone makers insisting on using different connector designs for charging, and promised an impact study on the consumer pain that Lightning and USB causes. Vestager confirmed the policy in a Parliament Answer this month. In 2011, in response to pressure from the …

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  1. Dave 15 Silver badge

    Be much more interested in...

    It would be better if they insisted that plugs and sockets were correctly physically fitted and designed to last. Lost 2 laptops due to the pathetic connector falling off the mother board taking half its tracks with it. My nice shiny new mobile phones charger connector (USB) already doesnt change most of the time because the cable is already knackered - after about 10 times of use! My old Nokias still work, still charge with a very simple connector.

    Lets have some basic quality criteria imposed on companies... if something fails within 5 years they replace the product for free, ensure no data is lost in the process, ensure the new product is compatible with the old in use (i.e. no, I dont want a crappy windows 10 replacement where office doesnt work, outlook is crap and I cant use more than one program very slowly because it uses so much memory to say hello world it needs a cray to run on, I want windows nt which functions)

    1. hitmouse

      Re: Be much more interested in...

      So you want to run an operating system that doesn't support USB?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Be much more interested in...

        >So you want to run an operating system that doesn't support USB?

        Hey, I've got fond memories of using NT 4.0! Couldn't use USB, but it was stable and snappy!

        1. sweh

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          "NT4[...]stable and snappy"... yes, it dropped into that stable blue screen very very quickly!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Be much more interested in...

            Could almost call it Strong and Stable...

        2. Byron "Jito463"

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          Windows 2000 (NT 5.0) was just as stable, and much more modern.

          1. Bill_Sticker

            Re: Be much more interested in...

            I loved 2000 sp4 and latterly Windows 7. Both did what you told them to, were backwards compatible and rarely BSODed. Windows 10 by contrast is a complete bag of sh*te which screws around with your carefully configured settings and you can't turn off the (Spit, snarl) 'updates' unless you've forked out the extra for a 'Professional' edition.

            For example, my last Windows 10 'upgrade' managed to lose my webcams zoom facility that worked very nicely right up until July 2018. Never mind needing 'driver updates' virtually every month.

            Yes, I know I should go down the Linux route. Only the wi-fi adaptor in my spare Acer laptop isn't compatible.

            As for the changing to a pan-european power standard; think of all the extra work for Sparkys (Electricians) updating all the ring main wiring in every single house and place of work. Across Europe. All at once. Ker-ching!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        NT4 and USB support

        I remember that the last NT4 service pack was going to have USB, directX etc but they never released it, instead they sold windows 2000 as a seperate product.

        Personally I preferred 2000 over XP for workstation use and the server/domain tools have gone down hill since. After Windows 7 they completely lost the plot assuming people want to do HPC on a mobile.

        1. kain preacher Silver badge

          Re: NT4 and USB support

          Blinks NT4.0 has support up to Direct X3 and you can find a beta for direct x 5. Now if you are brave or stupid, maybe both there are third party drives to give NT 4.0 limited USB.

      3. PeterM42
        Megaphone

        Re: Be much more interested in...

        "So you want to run an operating system that doesn't support USB?"

        Actually, there was a USB driver developed for NT4 by DELL. It downloaded as R62200.EXE

        Worked quite well from what I remember.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Be much more interested in...

      My friends Dell developed a loose power port ( the barrel type). What's attractive about USB C is a well designed laptop can charge from a USB C on either side, giving redundancy and convenience (though some laptops will only charge from a specific USB C port)

      You're right though - cables vary hugely by quality. I'm in the process of weeding out my micro usb cables that don't work at all, ones that look like they're charging but aren't, and ones that are too thin for my Samsung charger to trust to Rapid Charge.

      1. rdhood

        Re: Be much more interested in...

        " I'm in the process of weeding out my micro usb cables that don't work at all, ones that look like they're charging but aren't, and ones that are too thin for my Samsung charger to trust to Rapid Charge."

        I did this about 6 months ago. I threw away all of the crappy chargers and cables... tossed them so as never to be tempted to use them again. And I only buy known quality stuff... It makes a huge difference to be using quality cables and chargers everywhere.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Be much more interested in...

      .....Power-Outlet-Sockets being universal. Have to travel a lot, so having to lug around bulky universal adapters everywhere for everything is a PITA! Even in Europe 'Plug' variation is huge.

      Why don't hotels at least embed the 'universal' part into wall-sockets in rooms! No apparently instead we all want IoT / Alexa. Yeah right! Who benefits from that except Big-Slurp!

      1. AMBxx Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Be much more interested in...

        I quite like Microsoft's approach on the new Surface Go. It has their proprietary magnetic charger plus the option for USB C. Seems like a good compromise, but presumably adds a few quid. Wouldn't work on a phone either, but MS probably don't care any more!

      2. sal II

        Re: Be much more interested in...Power-Outlet-Sockets being universal

        I have been in at least 2 Hotels that had USB ports in the outlets, which semi solves the problem. At least as far as phone charging is concerned.

        A universal alignment of power plugs is not going to happen, simply because it's too costly and difficult to implement even if by some sort of a miracle all the world comes to a consensus on the type to be used.

        1. ThomH Silver badge

          Re: Be much more interested in...Power-Outlet-Sockets being universal

          The problem with USB sockets in the walls, airports, etc, is trust. Well, either that or buying one of those USB cables that has a switch to disconnect the data pins.

          1. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: Be much more interested in...Power-Outlet-Sockets being universal

            Yes, this. But I do what you suggest: I have power-only cables to use for this. No switch -- the data lines are simply not in the cable at all.

            1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

              At JohnFen, re: USB power.

              There is a dongle called a "USB condom" that allows you to plug in any standard data+power USB cable in while the other side of the dongle only has the power connections. I've got one on my keyring so I can charge stuff in public places & not worry about where the USB port has been. It's less expensive & more convenient than a specific power only USB cable, you only need carry the single normal cable, as long as you remember to wrap your plug before you get a charge out of it. ;-D

        2. Wayland Bronze badge

          Re: Be much more interested in...Power-Outlet-Sockets being universal

          What's needed is a 220vac USB standard.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Be much more interested in...Power-Outlet-Sockets being universal

            >What's needed is a 220vac USB standard.

            And the amperage? sufficient to charge one of those shiny new electric cars in 20 minutes?

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Be much more interested in...Power-Outlet-Sockets being universal

          I have been in at least 2 Hotels that had USB ports in the outlets, which semi solves the problem. At least as far as phone charging is concerned.

          ================================================================

          Only if you don't care that plugging into someone else's USB is a great way to get pwned.

      3. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: Be much more interested in...

        "Why don't hotels at least embed the 'universal' part into wall-sockets in rooms!"

        Universal sockets are illegal in the UK because of the risk of electrocution.

        1. Caffeinated Sponge

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          Voltage standards are also an issue more fundamentally, but yes the UK 3 pin plug is explicitly designed to prevent electrocution by forcing an earth pin to engage before either voltage pin.

          If mains plug standards upset you, you probably shouldn’t look at America...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Be much more interested in...

            @ Caffeinated Sponge

            The earth connector does not prevent electricution however with a RCD the power can be cut before serious damage can be done. Where they do not use an earth then to get electricuted you have to make a circuit with your body between live an neutral i.e. hold live in one hand and neutral in the other for example. There is no chance of electricution from metal appliance surrounds connected to live if you do not have an earth it is only if you are stupid enough to make yourself part of the live neural circuit.

            Having an earth actually creates new dangers and only with an RCD are to really safe, add in that electronic decoupling makes for leakage to earth anyway then having an earth is considered, by many, to be more hassle than it is worth.Hence why most other countries electrical systems do not bother.

            1. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: Be much more interested in...

              >Hence why most other countries electrical systems do not bother.

              Suspect the real reason is time, cost and inertia!

              Once you've agreed a Standard, got it deployed to millions of premises and people have been using it for 70+ years, it is difficult to change; although not impossible, remember the change over in the mid 1960's from coal gas to natural gas. Also whilst there may be benefits, the probably don't outweigh the significant costs of change.

        2. JimJimmyJimson

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          But yet, Singapore manages to have them everywhere (particularly in hotels), without people dying every minute... Then again every where apart from Britain we are grown up enough to manage power sockets in bathrooms without killing ourselves too...

      4. JulieM Bronze badge

        Re: Be much more interested in...

        "Universal" mains sockets will never be allowed in the UK because they do not meet BS1363, for at least two reasons:

        1: Over-current protection. In the UK, every plug has its own fuse, and a 32A circuit breaker supplies an unlimited number of sockets. Also, there is an extra connection looped back from the last socket back to the breaker, which effectively doubles the cross-sectional area of the cable. In the event of a fault, the appliance flex only has to withstand the excess current for long enough to blow the 3A or 13A fuse in the plug. If a non-UK plug was used without an additional fuse, the appliance flex would be in an endurance race with the 32A breaker.

        2: Safety shutters. In the UK, the extra-long Earth pin operates a mechanism to release a spring-loaded safety shutter which normally covers the live and neutral pin apertures to prevent the insertion of foreign objects.

        2.5: Earthing. Schuko and French sockets are designed so an earthed plug can be inserted into a non-earthed socket. The French system uses a pin protruding from the socket plate; the Schuko system uses edge bar contacts. The "universal" sockets just leave the earth unconnected with such plugs. Nice if you're using a hand-held, metal-cased appliance .....

        2.75: Cable entry angle. In the UK, the flexible cable enters the plug at 90 degrees to the axis of the pins. Pulling the flex will not pull the plug from the socket.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          Also if you put some of the smaller plugs into a universal socket, you will have exposed gaps for the parts of the socket that accommodate larger plugs, and with some plug types, it is possible to put the earth pin into the live socket.

          These problems are specific to universal sockets and woukd not happen if the plug in question was used with the correct type of socket.

          1. The Real Tony Smith

            Re: Be much more interested in...

            I initially thought the universal reference was to USB sockets on mains sockets.

            But a quick search revealed this http://www.universalsocket.org.uk/

            An interesting read but horrendous design!

        2. MacroRodent Silver badge

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          2: Safety shutters.

          Many modern Shukos have safety shutters as well (well did't check them all, but, at least seems to be very common here in Finland). These don't need an extra pin, but open only if both pins are inserted simultaneously.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Plug cable entry angle

          Yes, I know why the UK plug is so designed, but it makes for a bulky awkward plug that both acts as a vicious caltrop for unwary bare feet, and a real hassle to try to fit the laptop power cable into a laptop sleeve.

          What we need is something that has the genuine pluses of the UK plug (earthing, fuse) but is somewhat more compact (but not to the extent of the ridiculously weedy and dangerous looking US plugs). Something perhaps just a little larger than a kettle lead type connector would be a good size to aim for, and get every country to agree on this as the new standard for new installations.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Plug cable entry angle

            "What we need is something that has the genuine pluses of the UK plug (earthing, fuse) but is somewhat more compact (but not to the extent of the ridiculously weedy and dangerous looking US plugs). "

            You mean something like this ? Available for about 5 years now.

            1. Piro

              Re: Plug cable entry angle

              I have one of those, I use it all the time when travelling.

              I think he was implying the basic standard should be changed, though, in which case there's already a new standard; although it does not have a fuse, and I dislike many other things about it (straight cables, moulded plugs - I like to rewire them, thank you!): https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEC_60906-1

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Plug cable entry angle

                Yes, that IEC 60906-1 plug/socket was exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of.

                It it was fused, it would seem pretty much ideal.

                (Straight cables are a definite plus for me in two ways:

                1. Not a caltrop.

                2. If you trip over a power cable and it yanks the plug out, that means you had a power cable in a stupid place, acting as a trip hazard. A right-angled plug is a hack, rather than a proper solution to that problem.)

            2. Tony W

              Re: Plug cable entry angle

              Wht are we in the UK so self-congratulatory about our power connector? Anyone who services domestic equipment knows how often an item that should have a 3 A fuse is fitted with a 13 A. (Often it's a light fitting where the lamp has failed and taken the fuse with it.)

              You could say, this isn't seriously unsafe because a likely realistic fault current would be high enough to blow the fuse before the connecting cable insulation melts. But if it's safe, why not have the 13 A fuse in the socket, and save all those bulky and expensive plugs? And if it isn't safe, the basic design that allows such easy substitution is flawed. Either way we should stop congratulating ourselves.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Plug cable entry angle

                "But if it's safe, why not have the 13 A fuse in the socket, and save all those bulky and expensive plugs? And if it isn't safe, the basic design that allows such easy substitution is flawed. Either way we should stop congratulating ourselves."

                Good points.

                Consider this. Most fused solutions are open to abuse, as well as unplanned outages (no replacement fuse available). Drop fuses entirely and go to breakers.

                Put the breakers in a panel, and pull wires to each socket or socket pair, depending on location.. At that point you are not just protecting the power cord for the device, but the entire circuit. I am all in favour of protecting wires in the walls where I can't see the smoke.

                That also makes the power draw sufficiently distributed that the number of devices in a room is unlikely to be an issue - you can freely plug things in, and the loads all go back to the breaker panel independently. As long as you don't trip the building breaker, you are fine... if you do, re-planning is in order.

              2. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: Plug cable entry angle

                Wht are we in the UK so self-congratulatory about our power connector? Anyone who services domestic equipment knows how often an item that should have a 3 A fuse is fitted with a 13 A.

                Not sure if the two things are really related. The UK power connector simply mandates a fuse, it is up to the manufacturer to fit a fuse appropriate to their appliance.

                >But if it's safe, why not have the 13 A fuse in the socket, and save all those bulky and expensive plugs?

                I suspect that if the fuse were to be in the wall socket more often than not it would either be 13A or a piece of wire ie. 'fused' to support the maximum load the socket/circuit can deliver.

                However, I agree with you about the bulk, the UK 13A mains plug and socket is a great Standard for home appliances such as kettles, irons, vacuum cleaners etc. ie. stuff that people regularly connect and disconnect and that draw a lot of power. For sub-5A equipment its a bit of an overkill.

                I know and have used the mini 5A round pin (unfused) version of the 13A plug, for (fused) lighting spurs, that are available from electrical trade counters.

                I have also used a micro 3-pin 4 (or 6) gang multisocket for the hifi/home entertainment system, but this product is no longer available. But neither of these after-market socket styles are particularly standard when it comes to widespread usage and availability and so we can not expect equipment manufacturers to ship products fitted with these plugs.

                Which effectively means for over-the-counter products, we have to work within the constraints set by the well established UK 13A socket. The only way you are going to replace it is to define a new electricity supply interface, such as USB...

                1. potatohead

                  Re: Plug cable entry angle

                  Actually the fuse is to protect the lead from too much power, not the socket or the appliance. That's why it's on the lead. It's a common mistake to think the fuse is to protect the appliance, but it's not, so a 13 amp fuse in a table lamp is absolutely fine *if* the lead can take 13 amps.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Plug cable entry angle

              Oooh, that Lindy folding plug is clever, but no earth connector, unfortunately.

              I wonder if they do one that's suitable for Mac chargers?

              (But it'd still be better to have a new, more compact (and international) plug standard, than to have to buy a new power cable for everything. (Since we all invariably have more things needing plugged in than there are power sockets, we could still use existing power cables and plugs, connected into multi-way extension cables with the New One True Plug connected to the wall socket.))

            4. xeroks

              Re: Plug cable entry angle

              "You mean something like this ? Available for about 5 years now."

              No - that doesn't have an earth. Also way too flimsy, and reliant on moving parts for normal usage. Fine for use cases where you need the plug as small as possible.

              My Sony phone charger does something very similar for compactness, but the best one I've seen was an old apple design where all 3 prongs folded into the very normal-sized plug body, which also contained the voltage convertor goodies and a USB socket.

              It really is amazing when you think back to the huge iron transformers we had to use before high power semiconductors were cheap.

            5. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: Plug cable entry angle

              >You mean something like this ?

              Probably more like this: RCA Folding Plug , although it doesn't comply with BS 1363–1: What happened to the improved UK plug?

              However, you can buy a travel charger incorporating some of the concepts: Made in Mind .

            6. Andy A

              Re: Plug cable entry angle

              That style of connector is only available for non-earthed applications, and seems common on phone chargers.

              The "earth" pin is a plastic moulding; having a metal pin for electrical protection would require quite a bit of engineering. It would need to be able to guarantee electrical contact full-time, or disconnect the live pin in case of failure.

              What amazes me is that virtually every UK 13A plug is shipped with a hard plastic "condom" over the pins. The pins need no protection because the plug is very robust. They are never live when unplugged from a mains socket. The only possible reason is when the paintwork on white goods might be scratched by a loose plug when in transit. Why did the cable for your last purchase of computer equipment have one when it was also inside a plastic bag?

          2. Mark2410

            Oz

            See the Australian standard plug, 3 pin like a mini UK plug, its great for most electrical needs.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Oz

              "Australian standard plug, 3 pin like a mini UK plug"

              Standardised in 1932, based on a 1911 american 230V plug made by the Hubner company, also adopted by China, (and Argentina/Uruguay - with live and neutral swapped). Unlike the US 110V plug the body of this plug has sufficient material around the pins to ensure no finger contact is possible.

              If you step on one of these babies (side entry version) in the middle of the night, the pain is unforgettable. They're known to draw blood, occasionally requiring a visit to A&E for a tetanus shot or removal. UK plugs are mild by comparison.

              Australia standardised variants for 110VAC/110VDC/240VDC based on pin orientation at the same time. They still exist but are rare.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Plug cable entry angle

            What we need is something that has the genuine pluses of the UK plug (earthing, fuse) but is somewhat more compact (but not to the extent of the ridiculously weedy and dangerous looking US plugs)

            ============================================================================

            Those 'dangerous looking' plugs have been in use with no real issues for a century... while the absurdly bloated clunky UK plugs add cost, complexity, size, and way too much scope for someone to bypass the fuse.

          4. ENS
            Black Helicopters

            US & CA Plugs

            The north American plugs and sockets are very compact but the tolerances are very poor, so it's pointless for a device to rely on live and neutral being correctly connected, as the wider blade universally seems to fit into the narrower slot, unless there is an earth pin.

            Plus the majority of device plugs are earthless, even if the earthed version is already substantially more compact than either UK or European earthed plugs. If everything over - say 100W - was earthed, that would start to promote a higher standard. Adopting earthed plugs universally on US&CA devices universally would be a better move, as there are knock-on effects of using a ('non-polarised') 2-pin plug as standard. Firstly it drives unrealistic expectations on the size of products containing integrated plugs: if a product is designed to have 2 flat blades protruding, it's more difficult to adapt to larger EU and UK plugs. Secondly, for products with a power cord, there have been many last minute 'gotcha's' when trying to fit an EU or UK plug into packaging designed for a US 2-prong.

        4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          "Universal" mains sockets will never be allowed in the UK because they do not meet BS1363, for at least two reasons:

          You'd think that after all these years, the EU would have standardised on the UK wall plug/socket combo by now. They are well known for forcing all of the EU to whatever is the "highest" standard, rather than averaging out. See copyright duration as a prime example. the average was 50 years, same as the UK, but we had to switch everyone to 60 years because that was the highest (Germany).

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Be much more interested in...

            "You'd think that after all these years, the EU would have standardised on the UK wall plug/socket combo by now."

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEC_60906-1 is arguably better, with much better finger protection and still able to be handled by arthritic hands.

            The reason for the UK plug being fused is rooted back in the dim dark post WW2 days of copper shortages, aluminium cabling, ring mains and submains protecting far too many sockets (it wasn't uncommon for entire houses to be "protected" by one fuse on the mains board. In that environment you _need_ fused plugs to prevent house fires.

            The reality is that they add a point of unreliability and allow cowboy electrical workers to get away with wiring jobs that simply wouldn't be allowed in other parts of europe (where there are generally strict limits on the number of sockets allowed per spur along with the size of the cabling feeding them.)

            Electrical plugs are one of those things which have ultranationalists up in arms about - whilst those living in countries where the standards are fluid just wish the world would standardise on one common connector and be done with it (the reasons for 50/60hz make for interesting reading too - Edison vs Westinghouse of course.

        5. nagyeger
          Flame

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          You forgot:

          In Europe, the half-hearted attempt at safety shutters on Schuko/french sockets relies upon the pins pushing sloping shutters out of the way, a motion which is only made possible by the presence of some kind of lubricant. When said lubricant has melted/vanished/gone sticky or when the track/pivot on which the shutters are laughingly described as moving is no longer in perfect condition, the only way to get the pins into the socket remaining is wiggle, twist and apply extreme force, e.g. with a large hammer. Said tool of course further damages the shutters and does bad things to the cable, and the whole process may lead to bruising of the head against nearby brick walls.

          Add to this the disaster known as "switched socket, what's that?" and you have to unplug / plug in the stupid things far more than you would in the UK.

        6. vistisen

          Re: Be much more interested in...

          What I have never understood is why in the bathroom (which is the room in the house where most water gets splashed around) all shaving power points have no earth pin in the socket! When I visit the UK. this is where I end up charging my phone as I can stick a Danish phone charger directly into one.

          But apart from that I agree entirely that the English way should be adopted as the sensible standard, at least in new buildings. I constantly amazed when visiting friends to find that in the kitchen we can't use a kettle and a toaster at the same time as the ring mains to the kitchen has 5amp fuses in the circuit breakers, to protect the devices. I try to explain that the clever thing about fuses in plugs is that when for example a lamp shorts out, it is only the lamp that goes dark, not the whole house! They look at me and invariable say “But the plugs are so massive and ugly”!

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