SAN FRANCISCO — The group that's behind the USB standard wants to take some of the guesswork out of buying a Type-C charger. It's a welcome step that could mean a more reliable experience when you use USB Type-C accessories — if the accessory makers join in.
This week, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) announced a logo and compliance program that would make it easier for people to recognize which chargers will work with compliant USB Type-C devices such as laptops, docking stations, displays and mobile devices. Accessory makers will be able to submit power bricks and wall chargers — or "wall warts," as the USB-IF calls them — and compliant products will be able to sport a logo alerting consumers that they've been certified.
In addition to signaling that power bricks and wall warts are compliant, the logo will also display their power capability in watts. The USB-IF expects 15W, 27W, 45W and 60W will be the most common wattage levels for chargers.
There's a clear benefit to having such a compliance program in place. "It gives consumers an easy and quick way to know products have been looked at and certified by the organization that knows the technology," USB-IF president and chief operating officer Jeff Ravencraft told me during a demo of USB Type-C devices at this week's Intel Developer Forum.
Having certified charging products could also bring about universal chargers, which would not only make things easier on consumers — imagine being able to use a generic power brick to charge your laptop instead of having to hunt down one specific to whatever brand made your computer — but potentially reduce the amount of e-waste. The USB-IF argues there's a benefit to device makers, too, in the form of reduced manufacturing and inventory management costs from having to make their own chargers.
The USB-IF's demos at Intel's developer event showcased just how convenient having certified chargers could be. In one demo, I saw an Apple MacBook, Dell XPS 15 and a Chromebook all using USB Type-C cables to stay powered while also driving 4K video to LG monitors. In another demo, an XPS 12 notebook used a single cable to connect to a pair of 4K monitors via an HP Dock.
Of course, at the same time, I was seeing USB Type-C cables work in perfect harmony across different devices, my colleague Andrew E. Freedman was lamenting the frustrating state of USB Type-C compatibility among current accessories (which are not certified). That illustrates both the need for a compliance program, and the challenge of making sure it has an impact. "We can't mandate somebody uses the [certified] logo," Ravencraft concedes; the hope is that accessory makers will see the value in highlighting reliability and compatibility to consumers and participate willingly.
Here's hoping that they do. USB Type-C promises to be an important standard going forward, and having a way to pick out compliant accessories will help the standard deliver on its promise.