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Is USB the New Outlet?

2010-07-14 2 min read Electronics Anonymous marco

I just got a refurbished Garmin Edge 705 (review to follow) along with a bunch of craptastic free sample gadget from China. The thing they had in common? Instead of having dedicated chargers, they all came with an AC/DC converter to USB.

It used to be that you were flooded with dozens of different chargers. After a while, you’d forget which charger belonged to which gadget and you had to label them. Every time you’d move, then, you’d have this monstrous mess of chargers that you couldn’t get rid of, because you had long forgotten what gadgets they belonged to.

There were craptastic adaptable chargers with dip switches for current and voltage and different tips. You constantly risked destroying your gadget by choosing the wrong voltage, so they were really just an item of last resort. It was a nightmare.
So, now it’s USB. I love that. Especially because some converters are better than others, so you can just drop the crappy ones and use the good ones all the time. I particularly like the Kindle converter: it’s tiny and doesn’t protrude into neighboring outlets. (The Garmin one is so huge, I didn’t even take it out of the box.)

Frankly, it’s over hundred years after AC won over DC, and we start using less and less AC and more and more DC. Household appliances still use AC, and well as most power hogs (like the vacuum cleaner), but all smaller devices use some form of DC. Certainly all forms of electronic do – from computers to gadgets.

Why not standardize on DC inside the house, then? Why not convert your outlets to DC, replacing the two pig snouts with 8 USB ports? No real reason, really. And imagine how much better your life would be if you could run your netbook directly from USB!

[Note: I haven’t read the USB spec, so I don’t know what power throughput it calls for – a full-blown laptop might just be out of range.]

Imagine finally being able to just go to any outlet and plugging in your iPhone or iPod or whatever – no need for a charger!

Turns out there is a converter kit for current outlets that adds two USB ports (a little anemic, but better than nothing). I, for one, welcome this amazing change. No more running out of juice at the airport. No more dealing with chargers heavier and bulkier than the gadget they are meant to feed!