2012: Year of the universal charger

Roll on 2012. That's the year that we should be able to finally ditch the rat's nest of cables and chargers we take on holiday for a single, universal

Roll on 2012. That's the year that we should be able to finally ditch the rat's nest of cables and chargers we take on holiday for a single, universal power adaptor.

Yesterday's announcement that 17 handset manufacturers and mobile networks will be supplying a universal micro-USB charger with new phones from 1 January 2012 will have an impact far beyond just the cellphone market.

The universal charger will need to be able to convert AC power worldwide into a variety of DC voltages to recharge everything from basic GSM handsets to top-of-the-range smartphones - and for years into the future.

That means it should also be suitable for powering other pocket-sized gadgets, from digital cameras and sat navs to ebook readers, DAB radios, MP3 players and possibly even netbooks.

Just think about it. Manufacturers of any rechargeable gizmos will enjoy a genuine competitive advantage if their device sports a micro-USB port and can accept DC power of up to, say, about 7.5V and 1A.

Makers could either supply a generic universal charger (which should quickly become very cheap) or simply leave it out altogether, like printer manufacturers do with USB cables. And that's not to mention the goodwill and sales uptick from consumers happy to forego another adaptor in their travel bag.

Any manufacturer that doesn't fall into line (omissions from yesterday's launch included Apple, RIM and HTC) will find themselves spending more than rivals to offer an inferior product. And that's never a good position in today's world of razor-thin margins and fickle consumers.