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USB Group Pushes for More Reliable Type-C Chargers

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.

MORE: USB Type-C FAQ: Everything You Need to Know

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.