Keep On Plugging (in the Free World?), or: On the Prongs of a Dilemma

Recently, several of my clients have told me of their plans to do some traveling. I applaud their adventurous spirit, but I feel it is my duty to explain that some of their mobile gadgets need a little more due diligence when it comes to recharging while abroad. What follows is my quest to properly equip one such traveler before his upcoming African safari.

Mr. K., as I’ll call him, told me he was going to be exploring South Africa and Botswana, and that he was going to be bringing his new iPhone and iPad, and not much else in the way of electronics.

Apple's 12W Power Adapter for iPad and iPhone. Note the modular design for swapping prongs.

Apple’s 12W Power Adapter for iPad and iPhone. Note the modular design for swapping prongs.

Luckily, Apple’s 12-Watt USB Power Adapter can charge either the iPad or the iPhone interchangeably, with Apple’s USB-to-Lightning cable fitting the USB end in this adapter and the new, narrow “Lightning” end in either device. Like most of Apple’s mobile power adapters, this model has removable prongs, so one is not locked in to the North American “Type A” style of plug to charge the iPod, iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. All one must do next is purchase Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit, and swap out the appropriate prongs for the country one plans to visit. The power “brick” does the appropriate wattage and voltage conversions internally. This travel kit includes prongs for North America or Japan (Type A); China (Type A, but without holes in the prongs); Continental Europe (4mm Type C); Korea (4.8mm Type F); The United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Singapore, Qatar, or the Republic of Ireland (Type G); and Australia or New Zealand (Type I). One point of frustration: Apple doesn’t spell out which International Electrotechnical Commision (IEC) plug type (A, C, etc.) each adapter uses–I had to look everything up. Apple simply describes the shape of the plug, and lists the country (or countries) that support it.

Apple's equally helpful and unhelpful chart, listing its supported countries and their specific plug shapes.

Apple’s equally helpful and unhelpful chart, listing its supported countries and their specific plug shapes.

It’s only a quibble, until you take another look at the countries supported in this kit. Notice anything missing? Like, perhaps a whole continent?

Mr. K is going to Africa. Specifically, South Africa and Botswana. Since Apple does not support either of these countries in its kit (to say nothing of the 51 other African nations), I had to do some more research.

The United Outlets of Benetton.

The United Outlets of Benetton.

The first place I explored was the official IEC website (remember, they’re the ones who establish the electrical standards for all the countries around the world). On that site’s “World Plugs” page, one can go to a map and find each country’s various plug shapes, or start with the plug and work backwards. As much as technology has helped to break down national borders and bring us closer to a “one world” utopian ideal, we’re not quite there yet. That Apple travel kit included five distinct plug types (six, if holes make a plug distinct). According to the IEC, there are 14, from Type A to Type N. Amusingly, the IEC even address this plethora of options on their site, in a section called, “Why so many?”

Now, Mr. K assured me he didn’t need to get any special adapters for his time in South Africa, as those needs had been accounted for over there. He only needed to make sure he was covered for his time in Botswana. Consulting the handy IEC page, I went to their section for that country. It was then I realized how spoiled we are in North America. In Botswana alone, there are three distinctive plug types in use: Type D, Type G, and Type M.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Type G? As in The UK, etc. prongs included in the Apple travel kit?” Yes, indeed, Botswana (at least partially) supports the British standard, no doubt due to British Imperial involvement in the region from the late 19th century until Botswana’s independence in 1966.

That history lesson out of the way, I checked on Types D and M, still grumbling that they weren’t included in Apple’s kit.

Here’s what WorldStandards.eu has to say about the two plug types:

The Type D Plug and Socket.

The Type D Plug and Socket.

TYPE D: India has standardized on a plug which was originally defined in British Standard 546 (the standard in Great Britain before 1947). This 5 amp plug has three round prongs that form a triangle. The central earth pin is 20.6 mm long and has a diameter of 7.1 mm. The 5.1 mm line and neutral pins are 14.9 mm long, on centres spaced 19.1 mm apart. The centre-to-centre distance between the grounding pin and the middle of the imaginary line connecting the two power pins is 22.2 mm. Type M, which has larger pins and is rated at 15 amps, is used alongside type D for larger appliances in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan. Some sockets can take both type M and type D plugs.

 

 

The Type M Plug and Socket.

The Type M Plug and Socket.

TYPE M: This plug resembles the Indian type D plug, but its pins are much larger. Type M is a 15 amp plug, which has three round prongs that form a triangle. The central earth pin is 28.6 mm long and has a diameter of 8.7 mm. The 7.1 mm line and neutral pins are 18.6 mm long, on centres spaced 25.4 mm apart. The centre-to-centre distance between the grounding pin and the middle of the imaginary line connecting the two power pins is 28.6 mm.

 

I discovered in my research that Types D and M were also commonly used in South Africa, but since Mr. K didn’t need specific adapters for his time there, that information was a red herring. I needed to find adapters for those two types that could fit on to the end of one of Apple’s included prongs (most likely the largest, Type G).

Because time was a factor, and because I wanted to see each plug up close before purchasing it, I went to the largest brick-and-mortar electronics retailer in my area, Fry’s Electronics. Fry’s carries a wide variety of power adapters, particularly just about the whole range from Conair’s Travel Smart™ line. On Conair’s website, one can even search by country for the appropriate adapter. Encouraged, I typed in “Botswana,” hoping it would bring up the internationally recognized standards, Type D and M.

Instead, what came up were a variety of plugs that looked like what I wanted, but using Conair’s own naming/numbering system. For example, what everyone else in the civilized world calls Type G (although Apple omits such labels altogether), Conair calls NW135C. One can assume this is Type G, because the shape, as well as the countries it supports, line up with the G standard. Sadly, nothing on Conair’s “Botswana” page looked like the Type D or M plugs.

Recalling that Botswana’s Type D and M plugs were also used in South Africa, I typed that country’s name into Conair’s selector page. Using the pictures on their website, I was able to deduce that Conair’s NWG13C was the thicker Type M, and Conair’s NWG14C was the narrower Type D. I picked up each of these adapters at Fry’s and delivered them, along with the Apple kit, to Mr. K. He was less than pleased at all the options with which he was presented, but I explained that he only needed to bring his Type A (US) and Type G (UK, etc.) Apple prongs, and then plug the large Type G plug into his new Type D or M adapters (as needed) while in Africa. I also applied labels to each of the different plugs so he would know which was which, and which countries supported which plugs. Frankly, those labels would have been welcome from the manufacturer.

I now trust that Mr. K is fully equipped for his voyage, and for any power outlet that he may encounter in South Africa and Botswana. For now, I continue to dream of a day when all nations, great and small, near and far, use the same shape and size outlet to power all electronics.

That, or perhaps we’ll all switch to solar chargers, and ignore the wall outlets altogether. I just hope, should that day come, that Conair agrees to call it “The Sun.”

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One thought on “Keep On Plugging (in the Free World?), or: On the Prongs of a Dilemma

  1. Jayne Sturges

    Thank you so much for clearing up the mystery of apple world travel adapters. I am going to Fance and could not tell the difference between Korea and Continental Europe. So good to know there are great resources out there to help the new to technology generations.

    Reply

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