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All Together Now

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My recent look at Sony's latest personal media player, the Walkman NWZ-A815, rekindled a topic that's been smouldering in the back of my mind for sometime now. Why do electronics companies continue to use proprietary connections instead of established standards? Or, not so much why do they do it, but why do we continue to stand for it? Here, let me explain…

We've surely all been in that position at some point or another, where you're round a friend's house, your phone's dead and you realise you forgot to call your wife/boss/parents/etc, but of course you don't have your charger. You ask around your mates but they all use a different brand of phone so the chargers don't match. So what do you do?

Of course you could put your SIM in someone else's phone and make your call that way, or if you remember the number (who does nowadays?), just borrow a land line. Alternatively, if you carry your phone's data cable with you, you could plug your phone into a computer and charge it that way. However, many phones refuse to charge until you've installed the software for them, and even then you may not be able to make a call until you've unplugged it.

Of course, these situations aren't only confined to mobile phones. The use of USB attached car stereos is becoming evermore prevalent, with the Blaupunkt Melbourne SD27 and Alpine iDA-X001 even eschewing CD support completely in favour of MP3 playback. With these new head units it's now possible to just plug a USB hard drive or PMP in and they will search for and play whatever files are contained thereon, which is great. However, if you use an Archos player, say, and have one of its special USB cables ready and waiting in your glove box, when a friend comes along with their iPod and wants to play you a new track they've just downloaded, the cable won't match, so you're stuck. Obviously, if you have one, you can just use an analogue auxiliary audio cable instead but then you're losing audio fidelity in the process and also run the risk of forgetting to turn the volume down on your MP3 player so when you go to use it later you end up making your ears bleed - a regular annoyance for me.

Equally, it's not just data and power connections that suffer from this highly pervasive problem. You've surely all heard peoples' grievances over the iPhone's use of a cunningly small 3.5mm audio jack socket (if not, you will as soon as Riyad writes his review). Unless you were willing to go to town with a scalpel and a steady hand on your existing headphone plug - not something I'd recommend you do if you've splashed out on a pair of Shure E500PTHs, for instance - then you're forced to use Apple's included ear buds*, which I shouldn't need to tell you are somewhat sub-par. Wouldn't life be so much easier if these things all just worked together?

* You can actually get adapters that enable you to use normal headphones.

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