The shame of wall warts

Do the engineers who design the electrical supplies for electronic gadgets hate their customers? Am I wrong, or doesn’t it seem like this 20+ year passive/aggressive game of inconsistent sizes, voltages, wattages, and connectors , along with designing AC adapters that block AC wall outlets or take up two or more spaces on a surge suppressor has gone on too long?

I’m cleaning my office today. At least I’m trying to. I’m getting rid of two old Netgear WiFi routers, a few old external hard drives, and trying to clean up a few other external hard drives. Thing that’s killing me? Finding the right power supply for one particular Seagate FreeAgent drive. I swear it’s 12v DC, but I plug in one supply that fits (after trying some with smaller and larger outer plugs and smaller and larger inner plugs), and it just sits there slowly blinking orange. I guess I should be thankful it doesn’t go up in smoke – I blew an external disk once by connecting the wrong voltage. Not the drive, just the case.

I understand why we can’t get universal power supply connectors across the entire industry – companies don’t like to work together like that (as we can see with the cell industry until the EU forced the issue). But it boggles my mind why some company hasn’t at least bothered to color code, or uniquely shape, their DC connectors and AC adapters.

I love my Apple TV. One of the things I love best? No wall wart. iPhones? Tiny little AC/DC convertor. I realize that these are very low voltage units, and the same can’t necessarily be done for 12 volt DC devices like many hard disks and wireless routers.

I’ve always wondered why someone didn’t come up with a standardized 12-volt DC surge suppressor, with universal connectors, and try to evangelize it across the industry. Wall warts are end-user hostile, and waste energy when you’ve got 5 or more 12 volt devices running at near the same wattage, ┬ábut identical voltage. They also create massive amounts of heat performing the conversion.

If you’re in the electronics industry, give it a moment of consideration. If you can’t come up with the standardized, simplified approach above, at least make your own devices less end-user hostile. Spend a bit of time saying “this is a Brand X Power Supply that goes with Brand X Hard Disks”, or color or shape code the thing.

I realize that so much of the electronics industry is driven by raw cost. But understand that as Apple moves into your turf, this is the exact tact they will take while picking your lunch up off the table and eating it; taking tasks that you made difficult because you were cheap or lazy, and making them easy so that customers find the experience memorable. Even stupid things like a power supply.

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