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Cellphones Power

Handset Vendors Plug Micro-USB Charge Ports 363

Posted by timothy
from the kicking-and-screaming-to-the-briar-patch dept.
ketan324 points to a Register story touting an agreement among several phone makers to settle on Micro USB for their phones' charging ports, writing "It's about time for these cellphone manufacturers to wise up and design a universal phone charger. Although many manufacturers have already 'standardized' to a mini-USB interface, there are many more out there who use proprietary adapters. I wonder how Apple will feel about this? Will they finally realize that their oh-so-special adapter is nothing more than a fudged USB interface?" No legislation required.
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Handset Vendors Plug Micro-USB Charge Ports

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @12:48PM (#26888561)

    I have working USB on my computer. Why the hell do I need to install a Motorola XP driver to charge my RAZR?

    • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @12:54PM (#26888651) Homepage

      Often the standard USB current isn't enough to charge a device, so you must install a driver which does nothing more than increase the USB power output.

      • by damaki (997243) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:20PM (#26889123)
        Because that when the device is not identified by the OS, the power output is capped to 100mA. When identified, it can go up to 500mA.
        The evident solution would be to use a standard passive driver.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          My Best Buy/Insignia MP3 player doesn't have a driver, and yet it still manages to charge in every USB port I've ever tried - home PC, work PC, home laptop, even my LCD screen (which is a dumb gadget not attached to anything).

          • by damaki (997243) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:54PM (#26889819)
            It's not about not charging, it's about charging slowly.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by xouumalperxe (815707)
            My guess is that your MP3 player is showing up as a bog standard HDD unit, which is then treated as a fully identified device. The devices that need drivers are the ones that want to show up as something else that would require drivers to actually work properly (not just charge). I guess that's a reasonably smart behaviour that prevents some burnt devices. Your dumb LCD screen USB port probably couldn't care less about what's connected to it, so it gives juice to whatever asks for it.
          • by frieko (855745) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:02PM (#26889943)
            Clearly Motorola is either (a) being careful to comply fully with the USB spec, or (b) being dicks.

            I would say there's about a 50/50 chance of each.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by torkus (1133985)

              Seeing as how their phones don't like to charge with a plain-jane blackberry wall-wart I'm going to lean towards the phallic choice you suggest.

              Try explaining to a secretary why the "right charger" - 'look, it fits' won't charge her VP's phone when it clearly works 'it just charged his blackberry!'

              Ugh...

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @03:44PM (#26891847) Homepage

          There is a very simple solution to this that does not involve any drivers - USB HID devices.

          I create my own USB devices (http://denki.world3.net) and almost always use HID instead of a special driver. Even if the phone is not a "human interface device", you can just create a special kind of HID device that the computer will basically ignore. You can still do any custom communications you like but the device will install on Windows/Linux/Mac without the need for a driver, and you can specify the amount of current you want.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Nonsense. I have been able to charge both my previous phone (Motorola RAZR) and my current phone (LG Rumor) from my Ubuntu-powered PC, no drivers necessary. (Posted from my Rumor, BTW.)

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If your phone identifies itself as a USB Storage device, it can raise the power without its own driver, since it is recognized by the USB mass storage driver.

      • Still.. Even if I have to buy a wall wart to get enough current to charge, I only have to buy one charger for the house and car and I can charge my future Nokia, wife's future Samsung, kids future phones, etc..
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by corsec67 (627446)

      Why the hell do I need to install a Motorola XP driver to charge my RAZR?

      Maybe Windows leaves sending the "You can take up to 500mA" signal to the driver for the device?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jandrese (485)
      Because of the way USB is designed. If your device does not get attached to a driver, it is stuck on low power mode, which is not sufficient for charging a phone. When a driver is attached, the driver can ramp the port up into high power mode and charge the phone. Often times if you know what you're doing you can avoid installing the whole "driver suite" and the crappy apps you don't want and instead just copy over a .dll file to let your computer charge the phone. Google is your friend in these cases.
      • Because of the way USB is designed. If your device does not get attached to a driver, it is stuck on low power mode, which is not sufficient for charging a phone. When a driver is attached, the driver can ramp the port up into high power mode and charge the phone.

        I take it this means that if I have a USB hub then my cell phone is always on low power charge mode. Otherwise I don't see how a computer could decide how much current to supply when multiple devices are attached in parallel via a hub.

        So charging times must be dramatically reduced if I use a direct connection to the computer USB port rather than indierectly through a hub?

        A second question is, why don't devices supply their own drivers when you plug them in?

        • by DrLang21 (900992)
          The device's USB descriptors that are sent to the computer when a device is attached should tell the computer how much current it can be allocated. If your USB hub is externally powered, then current allocation shouldn't be an issue. If your hub is port powered, then your devices are automatically limited.
        • by Otto (17870) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:29PM (#26889319) Homepage Journal

          I take it this means that if I have a USB hub then my cell phone is always on low power charge mode. Otherwise I don't see how a computer could decide how much current to supply when multiple devices are attached in parallel via a hub.

          USB hubs are more than mere wiring, they have to have some minor amount of intelligence. There's two basic kinds of hubs: bus-powered and self-powered. Self-powered hubs have a separate power source (wall outlet, etc) and are allowed to provide up to 500 mA to devices connecting to them, which is the same as the high-power mode for normal USB ports. This allows those devices to charge. Bus-powered hubs can't do this, they're basically limited to the amount of power they get from the USB port itself.

          A second question is, why don't devices supply their own drivers when you plug them in?

          Because that's not possible in the USB specification. The "no-driver" devices really use a default set of drivers that have their characteristics predefined in the USB specs.

          Also, it's a bit of a security risk for a device to be able to send executable code to the PC and actually have it get executed.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @04:33PM (#26892907)

            Posting as AC because i can't log in from work, so i hope this gets seen. I have a USB modem from novatel wireless that has a small amount of memory onboard, and when plugged in mounts itself as a cdrom drive under windows or mac, and pops up to install it's own drivers. (under linux it uses the standard kernel driver for CDMA modems, no extra driver needed). I think it's a pretty cool idea, no matter what OS you're using, two clicks at most from plugging it in and it just WORKS, no driver cd, no needing to download drivers, nothing.

        • by compro01 (777531)

          No, an unpowered hub is a single device as far as electricity is concerned, but it's multiple devices according to the software. Everything plugged into the hub would be limited to 500mA total. If you only have one device on the hub, it's functionally identical to having it directly connect, aside from some small amount taken by the hub's electronics, but if you had, say, 4 devices plugged into the hub, they would need to keep their draw below 500mA combined. if 2 of those both tried drawing 300mA at the

      • by compro01 (777531)

        This seems to be a case of de facto functionality, as I have numerous such things that will draw more than the 100mA limit, like my laptop's cooling pad, which draws about 400mA, and the data lines on that are just left open, so there's definitely no driver getting involved.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Because of the way Microsoft's USB stack is designed. If your device does not get attached to a driver, it is stuck on low power mode, which is not sufficient for charging a phone.

        There, fixed that for ya.

        USB RFC standards lay out the process for increasing output current of a USB port, which should be a passive process. The USB device must simply apply a specific resistance across the USB pins to 'ask' the USB port to go into 'high power' mode. Whether the hardware or software vendor complies is a different story, but I've never had an issue charging high-power USB devices in linux.

      • I have my iPod touch plugged into my computer right now. I don't sync it at work, I didn't let it set up a driver, and I'm just hanging it there to charge.

        It charged just fine in about an hour. I don't see the problem. It's not that much different than an iPhone.

      • >>>it is stuck on low power mode, which is not sufficient for charging a phone.

        You're the second person to post this myth. A battery doesn't need a lot of current. My Nokia phone's battery charges from empty-to-full in just 5 hours at 100 mA. You claim that's "not sufficient" but clearly it can be done. My MP3 player only need 1 1/2 hours.

    • Weird. I plugged my KRZR into my monitor and it charged just fine. Only later did I install drivers to get mass storage to work.
      • by Otto (17870)

        Your monitor has a self-powered USB hub built into it, and the phone is designed to charge whenever it has enough power coming to it. The monitor gives it that much, so it charges, no drivers needed.

        A USB port on the computer acts differently than a port on a hub.

      • I did this with my KRZR K1m and it recognized it as a KRZR and about 1 minute later it started to charge.

        No Data, though. (Another battle for later...)

    • I have working USB on my computer. Why the hell do I need to install a Motorola XP driver to charge my RAZR?

      Because Windows sucks.

      You didn't expect a different answer from slashdot, did you? ;-)

    • by Yetihehe (971185)
      You don't need driver on linux. On the same laptop on windows - razr needs driver. On linux - just works. (it's only for charging though, I didn't even tried syncing).
  • Yay! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nerdposeur (910128) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @12:50PM (#26888571) Journal
    About time.
  • cell phone cables need to be able to support digital data, power and analog multi-channel audio input(microphones) and output (speakers). Some also need to support RGB or S-video out

    USB can do the first two. I may be mistaken but I don't think that USB can support those analog channels.

    So the connectors are not "oh so special" they are actually accomodating what is needed.

    If you want a minimalist approach of having a single docking connector then you need to have all that functionality.

    the alternative is

    • by residieu (577863)
      iPhones don't need RGB or S-Video, so no, they're connectors don't need to be anything other than USB. Audio input and output do not (or at least should not) use the same plug as power/data (otherwise you can't charge your phone and use the headset at the same time).
      • iPhones don't need RGB or S-Video, so no, they're connectors don't need to be anything other than USB. Audio input and output do not (or at least should not) use the same plug as power/data (otherwise you can't charge your phone and use the headset at the same time).

        iPhones have a video out, and line level audio I/O, and you can't run that through your headphone amp and mic preamps without some significant changes and additional noise.

        • Do what HTC does on their phones. Have your fancy weird connector, but design it to where a standard Micro-USB can plug in and do it's thing as well.

          Yes, it will break 90% of the accessories out there, but since when has Apple given two shits about backwards compatibility?

      • by jonnythan (79727)

        iPods do have analog video out and analog stereo L/R line out on their connectors. I rely on these, as it allows me to plug one cable into my iPod to both charge and listen to it in the car. And it allows me to drop my iPod into a dock and have it play audio and video through my system or the dock's built-in speakers/screen without having to attach multiple cables.

        These cannot be handled by USB.

      • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:19PM (#26889101) Homepage

        iPhones don't need RGB or S-Video

        They do if you have movies on them, and want to output those movies onto a TV screen. People probably don't do that very often, but you can do that.

        Audio input and output do not (or at least should not) use the same plug as power/data (otherwise you can't charge your phone and use the headset at the same time).

        iPods and iPhones have 2 different audio outs-- one being the headphone jack, which on the iPhone can also be used for headsets. So you can use that headphone jack while charging. The other audio out is in the dock connector, and it makes it so you can drop the iPhone into the dock and have the dock connect to a stereo. If not for that audio out, you'd have to drop it into the dock and then plug an additional cable from your stereo into the headphone jack.

        Not only would that be slightly annoying and inconvenient, but it's my understanding that the audio from the dock is also handled differently than the headphone jack. I'm not a real audiophile, so I don't remember what the deal is, but it's something like the dock connector not running the audio through the iPhone's built-in amp. The idea is you're going to feed it into a stereo and have volume control through that stereo anyway, so it shouldn't need to deal with that. Instead you (supposedly) get cleaner audio out to your stereo.

      • by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3.phroggy@com> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:28PM (#26889307) Homepage

        iPhones don't need RGB or S-Video, so no, they're connectors don't need to be anything other than USB. Audio input and output do not (or at least should not) use the same plug as power/data (otherwise you can't charge your phone and use the headset at the same time).

        Choose Component [apple.com] or Composite [apple.com] A/V cables to connect your iPhone to a TV. Included in the box is a USB charging adapter, so you can charge your iPhone while playing movies if you don't want to connect it to a computer. All of this connects via the single dock connector, which is standardized across both models of iPhone and several recent models of iPod (see the list at the bottom of each page). So, once you get everything hooked up, you can just leave the cable in place, and whenever you want to connect your iPhone (or your friend's iPhone, or your other friend's iPod) it's just one plug to connect it to your TV and charge the battery at the same time.

        Remember, the iPhone has a built-in camera. Why wouldn't you want an easy way to plug it into a TV and show your family and friends the pictures you've taken?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jandrese (485)
      You have a phone with S-Video out? Anyway, if you have a phone with a bunch of obscure ports like that, wouldn't it be better to have a separate connector for the power/data/digital audio from whatever weird ports you also have? Separate headphone jacks are hardly unique.
    • by athakur999 (44340)

      You could have a connector standard that was a standard micro-USB port next to a standardized audio or audio/video port - basically break out the iPod connector into two smaller connectors. You could plug in just a micro-USB cable to the micro-USB side, just a AV cable to the AV side, or use a standardized wider cable/connector that'd connect to both simultaneously.

    • by BESTouff (531293)
      Well no. Uber-phones just need an USB connector and appropriate drivers to let them feed audio/video/files/network/whatever they feel like through it. No need for special drivers and wires ! Just standardize on protocols (like Bluetooth did, but USB is also quite good at that) and you have one connector for all your needs.
      • by jonnythan (79727)

        How does that work with docks and in-car connectors?

        I want to just use one cable to connect my PMP to my car and have both audio and charging covered. I want to be able to drop my PMP into a dock and have audio and video come out of it without having to connect additional cables.

        "Drivers" do not solve these problems.

      • Umm...yes!
        So where do I get and how do I install the drivers on my audio receiver so I can dock my USB-only iPod to it? Hmm??

      • Well no. Uber-phones just need an USB connector and appropriate drivers to let them feed audio/video/files/network/whatever they feel like through it. No need for special drivers and wires ! Just standardize on protocols (like Bluetooth did, but USB is also quite good at that) and you have one connector for all your needs.

        That would require every device you plug the phone or iPod into to be a USB host. That's going to cost a lot more.

        I have a Nokia phone that can output video and stereo audio through its headset jack. It also has a standard mini USB port, and a barrel connector for the charger. I'm pretty sure it can charge through the USB connector, but since Nokia already had a charger that fit their other more basic phones, they elected to use that so people could use their older Nokia car chargers and so on.

        But, getti

    • by AJWM (19027)

      cell phone cables need to be able to support digital data, power and analog multi-channel audio input(microphones) and output (speakers). Some also need to support RGB or S-video out

      USB can do the first two. I may be mistaken but I don't think that USB can support those analog channels.

      Actually my iPAQ uses a USB headset, supporting both audio in and out (via analog/digital conversion in the headset). Personally I wish it also had a regular analog port.

  • To be fair, the iPod dock connector carries more than just USB [pinouts.ru]. And the USB dock cables work on pretty much any model iPod.

    • The iPod dock connector can't carry more than just USB at once. It can carry USB *or* Firewire. But it doesn't do both simultaneously. The purpose of the connector is so it doesn't need two separate ports... one for firewire, one for USB. I don't think USB and Firewire ports are interchangeable, but I could be mistaken. In all honesty, Apple should just drop Firewire support for iPods and iPhones since they really don't need it.
      • Looking at the pinout, it also carries analog video and audio. Firewire is for only six pins out of the 30.

      • They *have* dropped firewire support. Newer iPods can charge over firewire, but lack the controller to actually transfer data over it.
  • oh-so-special? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:07PM (#26888907) Homepage

    I wonder how Apple will feel about this? Will they finally realize that their oh-so-special adapter is nothing more than a fudged USB interface?"

    Oh, like Apple is just using the dock connector to be "special"? It's true that the dock connector is *mostly* USB, but it also can carry audio and video so that, with only a dock, you can output to a stereo or TV. Also, the audio put out through the dock is supposedly different from what comes out of the headphone jack (I believe they aren't amplifying the audio from the dock), meaning you can get better quality for outputting to a stereo.

    So I don't know why the submitter has to turn this into an Apple-bashing thing. Apple actually uses standards pretty often. And often, when they do stray from a standard, it's in order to provide specific functionality-- and even then they often release the specs for their version, allowing others to adopt it. For example, I believe they released the specs for their custom "mini display port" that they're using without requiring any kind of licensing fees or anything.

    • Re:oh-so-special? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Theaetetus (590071) <{theaetetus.slashdot} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:14PM (#26889023) Homepage Journal

      So I don't know why the submitter has to turn this into an Apple-bashing thing. Apple actually uses standards pretty often.

      Apple was the first to push widespread adoption of USB, IEEE1394, 802.11n, and MPEG-4, among many other standards.

    • Re:oh-so-special? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:18PM (#26889091) Journal
      On the other hand, they specifically implemented an authentication chip that prevents video output on newer ipods if you use anything but officially blessed cables. There are certainly reasons for the dock connector; but that doesn't change the fact that Apple's approach toward accessory makers has pretty much been "flip over and shake until money stops coming out".
    • Also, the audio put out through the dock is supposedly different from what comes out of the headphone jack (I believe they aren't amplifying the audio from the dock), meaning you can get better quality for outputting to a stereo.

      The audio from the Dock is not amplified so it is used if your iPod needs to connect to another device like your home receiver. Also the Dock allows your receiver to control your iPod if it has iPod controls. In this way, the iPhone needs more than the standard mini-USB.

      So I don

    • So I don't know why the submitter has to turn this into an Apple-bashing thing.

      Because the submitter wants to sound like an r34l cool h4Xo5?

    • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:39PM (#26889525)

      So I don't know why the submitter has to turn this into an Apple-bashing thing.

      You must be new here.

    • Re:oh-so-special? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Logic (4864) <esm+slashdot@logic.net> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:44PM (#26889619) Homepage

      Excellent point. Just to head off other people talking out of their ass (wishful thinking, I know), the pinout [pinouts.ru] for the iPod/iPhone connector ought to be required reading before commenting on what it can and can't do. That connector provides interfaces for USB and Firewire, audio in/out, video out (composite and s-video), serial, and dedicated power.

      It's not an ideal situation, but a single cable covers just about every possible use case. That's a big deal, ergonomically, and it means Apple can standardize internally on an interface across multiple product lines.

      It's unfortunate: the knee-jerk reaction to "we need a universal charger" will miss the opportunity to standardize on a SINGLE interface cable for mobile devices, rather than using USB for power and data, a headphone jack for audio output, and who knows what proprietary arrangement for audio input and video output.

  • by try_anything (880404) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:12PM (#26888991)

    The threat of legislation was enough.

    I'm sure the handset makers are deeply saddened by this. Clearly, this unwelcome meddling by government will hurt consumers by ending competition in this vital technical matter. Why, instead of buying the latest high-tech replacement cable custom optimized for advanced synergy with their handset, people might replace a lost cable with an abandoned, misbranded, maybe even second-handed cable from an older handset. This could cost consumers literally incalculable amounts of synergy and innovation. Why won't the government just let capitalism work?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Sounds like we need an astroturf group to take up the cause. I wonder if "Consumers for handset innovation" is taken?
    • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@y a h oo.com> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:54PM (#26889821) Homepage

      Legislation (or threat of legislation) had nothing to do with it. The legislators are already all bought and paid for.

      The problem is that selling replacement chargers only works from a profit perspective when the profit from the replacement chargers you're selling offsets the cost of the free chargers you're including with the phone. That worked for a little while, but then generic manufacturers got involved, and the money made selling replacement chargers stopped beating the money spent including free chargers.

      So the phone companies are switching over to the printer+USB cable/HD TV+HDMI cable model. With standardized chargers, they don't need to include a charger with the phone anymore, saving them money. And then the retailers can sell you a phone, and then also sell you a $2 charger for $80. $120 if it's gold plated. $180 if it's gold plated and made by Monster.

    • by yoshi_mon (172895)

      LOL, 4 posts and counting that did not get the sarcasm. Well done sir.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by db32 (862117)
        I know! I was going into the comments to see what other amusing jokes may have been made and was stunned to see all of these people frothing about the post. I don't know if I should applaud the GP or be deeply depressed by so many people not getting the PAINFULLY obvious sarcasm.
  • My Palm has a usb connector that can provide data from the computer and also a charge but it also had a high-power connector with wall wart that could charge it fully in 20 minutes. Makes sense since usb charging can take up to four hours for a fully discharged battery.

    I've seen hybrid connectors on some devices where you have your mini-usb to the left and the proprietary crap on the right. Plug in the proprietary connector, you get everything. If you're on the road and just need some juice, any standard mi

  • by Dekortage (697532) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:26PM (#26889269) Homepage

    We discussed this issue back in 2006 [slashdot.org], though for a different continent. But if South Korea [phonescoop.com] and China [textually.org] can do it, why not the rest of the world? Seems like it would be a win-win for manufacturing, if nothing else.

  • I bought a Sansa Fuze recently, because it fit all the criteria I had for a new mp3 player:

    cheapish (4gb for $70)
    Small/thin
    Video playback
    Expandable storage (via SDHC)
    good codec support (ogg, flac, mp3, etc)
    long battery life (~24 hours on a charge, for audio)

    the *only* think i dont like? proprietary usb cable. what an annoying thing to do on a nifty little device.

  • I've had Motorola phones that have a micro USB connector but refuse to accept a charge from anything except a Motorola charger.

    I would hope that this agreement to use USB goes further than simply adopting the physical connector.

    It should be possible to attach to any convenient USB plug - without benefit of drivers - and recharge a phone.

  • Apple connector (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    While I too wouldn't mind a more standard charging connector, I see no reason why a mini-usb for getting power, AND a custom plug with more ability than simply power and a slow one to one data comm protocol for one host (the PC)

    http://pinouts.ru/Devices/ipod_pinout.shtml [pinouts.ru]

    That link shows both the iPod and iPhone connector. I am actually in the process of designing some nice attachments to the iPhone using a combination of USB, firewire, and a ttl serial port.
    None of those things outside of the one USB connec

  • I love it! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SupremoMan (912191) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @06:38PM (#26894949)
    So they decide on universal ports for chargers.... but nothing about accessories. I love it! Even funnier, they say nothing about this generation micro-USB chargers working on next generation phones! Don't worry guys, they'll find a way to fleece us yet!

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