USB-C: A Great Idea, But It Won’t Put a Dent in Price Gouging

David Pogue sings the praises of the latest standard in computer cables:

The new cable, called USB Type-C (or USB-C), is the same on both ends, so you never have to fiddle with it. The connector is also identical on both sides—there’s no upside down.

USB-C can replace four different jacks on your gadget: data, video, power and, soon, audio….Yet the connector is tiny enough for phones and tablets and sturdy enough for laptops and PCs. Every device from every brand can use the same cable.

….That USB-C even exists at all is something of a miracle, considering what a big business accessories have become. Apple, for example, makes a staggering amount of money selling cables….Apple’s not alone. A typical charger for a Windows laptop costs $60 to $80….The question is: Why? Why would these archrivals work together to create a charger that works interchangeably across devices and brands, wiping out the proprietary-charger industry in one fell swoop?

I think I can answer this. I currently use a Surface Pro 4 tablet, and its biggest drawback is lousy battery life (about five hours of moderate use). So I was thinking of getting a second charger to leave downstairs so that it could charge midday when I’m not using it. But as Pogue says, there was sticker shock. The charger costs $80, which is so ridiculous that I rebelled. It’s not as if I can’t afford it, and I’ve long since been trained to accept inflated prices for chargers. But $80 is so high that it felt as if Microsoft was literally giving me the finger.

Would USB-C change this? Nope. Because the issue here isn’t the proprietary cable, it’s the proprietary charger. You see, the Surface doesn’t use a normal 5-volt charger, it uses a 15-volt charger. Good luck finding one of those! If you try charging it with a normal third-party charger, it will just sit there sullenly doing nothing.

Micro-USB is already pretty standard for cell phones and such, so USB-C doesn’t change things much there. And I suppose some (most?) tablets work with a normal 5-volt charger. But I know that Dell tablets don’t. Surface tablets don’t. And the truth is that the higher voltage is handy, since it allows large batteries to charge faster.

USB-C will probably help a bit in the endless war against manufacturers constantly changing cable types. But when it comes to making money, it’s the proprietary charger that’s key, not the cable.