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An open letter to electronic gadget manufacturers

10:11 PM Wed, Apr 29, 2009 |
Posted by: Walt Zwirko
 E-mail

Dear Electronic Gadget Manufacturer:

I am a frustrated electronic gadget user. Don’t get me wrong: I salivate over cool new cell phones, MP3 players and digital cameras. But what’s up with the battery thing?

Let me explain.

Once upon a time, just about every battery-operated product that I purchased used one or more of these types of cells: AA, AAA, C or D. That was it. It was easy to set aside a drawer with a collection of replacement batteries.

All rechargeable products can eventually benefit from a battery swap (if they last long enough in the first place, of course). But some products — most infamously Apple’s iPhone and iPod — are sealed up so users can’t exchange the battery. And even if they could, there’s nothing resembling a AAA cell inside.

That’s understandable enough; as consumer products slim down, there’s not enough room for “standard” batteries.

But instead of working together to come up with a new generation of universal cell sizes, what have you manufacturers done instead?

It seems that your designers first come up with a new, “must-have” product; then engineers are tasked with figuring out how to squeeze a power source into an impossibly tiny space.

Even though a cell phone from Brand X may need the same power and voltage as another from Brand Y, each uses a battery with a slightly different shape and has its connectors in different places.

But today’s chaotic battery scene isn’t limited to competition between manufacturers. A battery for Samsung’s original BlackJack cell phone won’t fit in Samsung’s BlackJack II; and a Razr V3 from Motorola needs a different battery pack than a Razr2 V9.

And then there are notebook computers, where — once again — the word standardization does not appear to be in your dictionary.

All this makes it especially difficult for those of us who like to hang on to aging but still-useful tech products, because it’s nearly impossible to find a handy replacement for these specialty batteries without resorting to mail order services. .

I’d like to refer you to a model that seems to be a step in the right direction.

The GSMA trade group, representing 17 mobile phone operators and handset manufacturers, announced earlier this year that they aim to implement a universal charging solution for all new cell phones by January of 2012.

That means I won’t need to maintain a crazy array of different chargers for each device; a standard micro USB connector on one charger will fit any new phone from LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung or Sony Ericsson. And there’s no reason why the makers of portable music players and other small rechargeable devices couldn’t play along.

Batteries are a different matter entirely, I know. And ending the proprietary grip that each manufacturer has on its power cells would eliminate a revenue stream.

But think of the inventory expenses each manufacturer could save if there was a standardized stable of, say, ten tiny battery packs. Designers could simply choose the size and shape that best fits their next vision and craft a new product around it. Consumers like me would be able to easily grab a replacement at the RadioShack or Wal-Mart — they’d be hanging on the rack right next to the C cells.

This arrangement would be better for the environment, and the economies of scale involved would mean lower manufacturing costs for you and cheaper products for me.

Give it some thought, and I’d be honored if you’d name one of the new batteries after me: The Z cell.

Sincerely,

Walt Zwirko
WFAA.com Computer Corner

E-mail askwalt@wfaa.com



1 Comments

I HAVE INVENTED A GADGET CALLED THE TREK PLAYER AND NEWPRODUCTHELP.COM IS TRYING TO FIND A MANUFACTURER FOR MY PRODUCT. IT IS A DVD PLAYER MADE FRON THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE. IS THERE ANY WAY NYOU CAN HELP? THANK YOU.


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