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Original USB inventor says a reversible connector would have been too expensive to produce

By Polycount ยท 33 replies
Jun 21, 2019
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  1. Depending on the location of your USB ports -- sometimes they're under crowded desks, surrounded by a mess of other cables -- you may be forced to repeat step one and two a few times before you're successful. Newer USB variants are finally solving this problem with reversible connectors, but why wasn't that the design from the get-go? Why did it take so long for the computer industry to solve this minor, but consistent annoyance?

    According to the inventor of the original USB connector himself, Ajay Bhatt, there was one critical reason: cost. Bhatt claimed in a recent interview with NPR that designing a USB connector that could plug in either way could have "doubled" their production costs; primarily due to the extra circuits and wires needed to make it happen.

    However, it wasn't just Intel's bottom line that Bhatt was concerned with -- there was a greater vision in play. Before USB came along, there wasn't really a standardized port for various devices. As anyone older than 25 will likely know, peripherals like keyboards, headsets, and microphones often needed their own unique cables and jacks to function properly.

    Compared to that scenario, a 50/50 chance to plug your device in correctly the first time (causing you to waste a few seconds at worst) probably seems quite appealing.

    Anyway, in order to convince others in the computing industry (like Steve Jobs) to adopt a relatively-universal port on their devices, Bhatt decided it was necessary to keep USB's production as cheap as possible. Doing so made it far easier to sell the idea to others, and it's arguably thanks to that difficult decision that the various versions of the tech we have now are easily the most common connectors out there.

    Of course, despite all of that, Bhatt isn't blind to the frustration his early designs caused. He has acknowledged multiple times over the years that the non-reversibility of USB connectors has proven pretty annoying to the average user. Still, in his eyes, it was a necessary evil.

    Permalink to story.

  2. lipe123

    lipe123 TS Evangelist Posts: 800   +334

    Maybe this was a valid point for usb 1.0, but as soon as we all saw that everything from keyboard to rocks came with usb cables soon after they really should have realized its worth the extra cost.

    Also double $1(or less) for the connector is not going to bankrupt or cause manufacturers to not adopt it.

    Shortsighted and silly.
  3. ShagnWagn

    ShagnWagn TS Guru Posts: 734   +566

    ForgottenLegion and treetops like this.
  4. xpwjintel

    xpwjintel TS Rookie

    Agree. However, it's not about "bankrupting" the manufactures...its' all about "earning less"....by adding an extra $1 on each port, they will make less.....and only for the benefit of the customer. And the benefit isn't even "named" on to the manufactures either. Therefore, extra cost is extra cost that can be saved.
  5. NahNood

    NahNood TS Addict Posts: 121   +64

    But you know it's ALWAYS money first, right, no matter how small or absorbable.
    p51d007, MaitieS and wiyosaya like this.
  6. QuantumPhysics

    QuantumPhysics TS Evangelist Posts: 1,254   +910

    Capitalism's job is to use the Free Market to force products to evolve to strike a better balance between cost and quality.
  7. GregonMaui

    GregonMaui TS Booster Posts: 137   +45

    Talk about rationalizing a bad decision. and let's not forget, how many ports got broken by squeezing the connectors in the wrong way! And let's see, double costs (so the cables might have gone to 6 cents to produce?, but you are eliminating VGA, Parallel, and serial cables. Geesh!
  8. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 2,718   +2,517

    "As anyone older than 25 will likely know, peripherals like keyboards, headsets, and microphones often needed their own unique cables and jacks to function properly."

    Not true at all. PS/2 for mouse and keyboards, 3.5mm mic and speaker jacks for audio and parallel for printing: those were the pre-USB standards.
  9. Catweazle

    Catweazle TS Booster Posts: 68   +65

    You say it's not true at all yet then list all the different types of ports they needed, just as the article stated. Also before the IBM PS/2 was introduced keyboards used to plug into a full sized DIN port, mice plugged into either a serial port or proprietary expansion card, modems often used 25-pin serial ports as opposed to the 9-pin variety, and many devices required SCSI. Point is there used to be a lot of different connectors on the back of a computer and USB eventually replaced nearly all of them.

    Interesting trivia, the Atari 8-bit line of computers used a very similar system to USB called SIO where all peripherals used the same connector and could be daisy chained, and the guy who designed it was the same person who later designed USB.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2019
  10. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,895   +2,220

    So previously, the electronics needed to supply power to the USB standard was too expensive to produce. It wasn't a data transfer problem, older boards and devices weren't capable of either producing or receiving the wattage levels. Further, you need to split the data transfer connections to make a reversible connector and that also increases the resistance going to the device.

    Material science just wasn't there back then to cheaply make this a possibility. Further,when starting a new standard you want the barrier of entry to be low so wide spread adoption is high

    Now, with USB-C, we have electronics on both ends the both identify and supply the power that any individual device can receive.
    IceIceAyu and treetops like this.
  11. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,403   +5,022

    Anyone that remembers using USB when it first came out, knows this is a valid point. I would also like to think they are familiar with backwards compatibility, which kept it that way.
    treetops likes this.
  12. mizkitty

    mizkitty TS Enthusiast Posts: 48   +11

    The seam in the metal tongue is always on the bottom.
    If the motherboard is oriented vertically (in a tower case) the bottom is the closest side.

    If you can't see the seam because of poor lighting, you can usually feel it with your fingernail...
  13. Nobina

    Nobina TS Evangelist Posts: 1,947   +1,492

    Who is actually dumb enough to do this?
  14. MikeAcker

    MikeAcker TS Enthusiast Posts: 37   +6

    Reversible was never needed. what is needed is a convention MARKING the connector: This Side Up.
  15. Phyrino

    Phyrino TS Rookie

    When he dies he should be buried.
    Then we dig him up, turn him upside down, and bury him again!
    ForgottenLegion and theruck like this.
  16. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus Stone age computing - click on the rock below.. Posts: 4,067   +1,190

    Any ideas as to how in a convenient manner?
  17. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,400   +3,793

    I think that was a pretty poor explanation, more like an excuse for not perfecting it, especially by version 2.0. Just goes to show the difference between a professional engineer that puts the customer 1st and all the others that just "get by".
    ForgottenLegion likes this.
  18. Phyrino

    Phyrino TS Rookie

    When he dies he should be buried.
    Then we dig him up, turn him upside down, and bury him again!
  19. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,573   +561

    All these haters should get together and reinvent the power plug\outlet so no one plugs it in wrong. Go on show us all how making something more expensive doesn't matter.
  20. Phyrino

    Phyrino TS Rookie

    I'm confused. What do you mean?
    Do you suggest that we should invent a power plug just like the one that is used in most of Europe?
    we have type C and F.
    guess what? it doesn't cost more.
    ForgottenLegion likes this.
  21. hahahanoobs

    hahahanoobs TS Evangelist Posts: 2,555   +921

    Really? Use your imagination.
    Off the top of my head, maybe the top part of the connector could have two bumps you could feel to tell you it was the top.

    Hahaha, I just checked the connector of the first USB device I have in my desk drawer, and low and behold, the connector on my wireless hub for my XBOX controller for Windows has a single distinct bump close to the cord on the top of the USB connector.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2019
    Cycloid Torus likes this.
  22. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,573   +561

    Good that will make it easier for you to sell them and take over the current marketplace in the USA.
  23. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,967   +1,230

    1 dollar or less doesn't sound like much, unless you are talking MILLIONS of units, and trying to justify to the board of directors & stockholders. To them, convenience be d*mned...it's all about PROFIT.
  24. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,967   +1,230

    Yep! I work on some machines, that have a customer accessible usb port for printing. Can't tell you the number of times I've had to replace those ports, because someone tried to jam a usb drive in backwards.
  25. Phyrino

    Phyrino TS Rookie

    That wasn't what you asked. What you are doing is shifting the goalpost instead of conceding defeat.

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