“- Damn, I forgot my cell phone charger. Can you lend me yours?
– What phone do you have? A Samsung? Sorry, I have an Iphone, it doesn’t work. »
This dialogue – beautifully composed by us – inevitably evokes an unbearable moment in everyday life, making you want to curse the incompatibility of smartphone chargers. This time of hell is soon over. On Tuesday, MEPs voted for the USB-C port to become the single socket within the European Union, by the end of 2024. Currently, three types of socket are circulating on the market: micro-USB, present on the majority of past Androids, USB-C, the current standard and the replacement for micro-USB, and Lightning, the famous Apple plug since 2012. Enough to tear your hair out in front of your laptop. And still, it was worse ten years ago, when about thirty different chargers (!), all incompatible with each other, circulated.
This obligation, which also concerns tablets, portable consoles and digital cameras, will affect laptops by 2026. According to the European Commission, this standardization will save the European population 250 million euros per year. From the same source, waste due to unused magazines, estimated at 11,000 tonnes per year, could be reduced by almost 1,000 tonnes.
United (formed) for the better
A story that recalls another, the coffee pod war. In 2014, the Autorité de la concurrence caught up with Nespresso by the neck regarding its abuse of power. At the time, the Nestlé subsidiary represented three-quarters of espresso coffee machines in France. Problem, 85% of the capsules compatible with these machines are… Nespresso. According to the producer of the L’Or Espresso pods and Ethical Coffee Company (ECC), Nespresso modified its machines to interfere with their use with competing pods. The coffee giant had to commit “to remove barriers to entry and development for other capsule manufacturers working with its coffee machines. »
A charger to rule them all, coffee machines for all pods… Is the consumer world whistling the end of the recreation of anything from brands to unique products? “There is a basic trend among consumers, with a search for ease and freedom, depicts Régine Vanheems, professor at the University of Lyon, specialist in trade and customer changes. And freedom does not mean finding which charger should be compatible or not being able to borrow the neighbour’s. »
And the marks in all this?
Any freedom accompanied by independence, “consumers no longer want to be captive to a brand, nor to pay an additional cost for it”, supports the expert. All sprinkled with an ecological conscience and a desire to consume less unnecessarily. Ronan Groussier, head of public affairs at the Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmetée (HOP) association, says the same thing: “We need to reduce the number of specific products dependent on a single brand. This is ecological nonsense and a waste. It is therefore a decision that goes in the right direction, even if there is still a lot to do, and it took a long time”. The European Commission has indeed looked into this subject since… 2009, fifteen years before it was implemented. But no matter, History is now on the move: “The trend that will be created is a single charger for the couple or the family. Fewer objects, therefore less costs, and less waste”, continues Régine Vanheems.
The two or three notions retained in the past during marketing quickly make us see the problem raised: how to create a brand identity in a standardized market? No coincidence that Apple has always strongly opposed this standardization of chargers. Ronan Groussier supports: “Brands defend the idea that specificity enables technological innovation. Despite the desires of consumers, we must therefore expect strong resistance – and dragging feet – from the side of the signs. »
However, standardizing certain products would pose no commercial problem, according to Régine Vanheems. Admittedly, the expert validates that “brands need to personalize their offer according to the characteristics of the consumer, to form an identity”, but not when it comes to “objects without added value, where personalization is found without interest”. Typically: laptop chargers. “In this case, personalization becomes harmful,” continues the expert.
Who imagines Adidas socks incompatible with Nike shoes? See you soon, then, in a world where all the corks would fit on all the bottles, where all the screwdrivers would be compatible with all the screws…? Régine Vanheems hopes so: “With this standardization of pests, brands will be able to concentrate on personalizing the real vectors of their difference”. Not to mention that who says unique product says less cost: “a gain either for the consumer or for the brands, which could use these margins to improve their products”. Win-win then. Either a uniform victory.