The tech world has finally coalesced around a charging standard, after years of proprietary adapters and ugly wall-wart power supplies. Well, sort of: We’re already seeing some fragmentation in terms of the new USB-C connector, which could eventually replace USB, as well as what is thankfully turning out to be a short-lived obsession Samsung had with larger USB micro-B connectors for its Galaxy line. But aside from that, and with the obvious exception of Apple’s Lightning connector, micro USB has destroyed the industry’s penchant for custom ports.
Ten years ago, you always had to make sure you had the correct power supply for each of your gadgets. Usually, that power supply wasn’t even labeled. Today, you can charge your phone at your friend’s house, plug your ebook reader into any computer, and download photos from a digital camera directly to your TV, all thanks to a standardized connector. In its place, though, there’s a new problem: USB power. Not all USB chargers, connectors, and cables are born equal. You’ve probably noticed that some wall chargers are stronger than others. Sometimes, one USB socket on a laptop is seemingly more powerful than the other. On some desktop PCs, even when they’re turned off, you can charge your smartphone via a USB socket. It turns out there’s a method to all this madness — but first we have to explain how USB power actually works.
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