USB cables are everywhere in your home, with the same problem: almost every time you try to connect them, you have to do it over and over again, because it’s so easy to get the wrong side.
A problem recently solved by the format and USB type C plug, the creator of USB type A explains why the USB connectors before him are not reversible – and obviously it wasn’t because he didn’t want to.
Even if you gradually switch to USB type C format, there is a good chance that you will still use a lot of conventional USB cables.
The format of the type A plug, the rectangular plug that is usually thought of when discussing the problem, was created by a computer engineer, Ajay Bhatt in 1996.
He tells how he chose this non-reversible form in an interview given to the Design News website. A particular form that too often leads us to make mistakes in meaning.
More recently, he pointed out to our colleagues at NPR that this choice was essentially motivated by the cost of the technology.
USB Cable: This Is Why It Was Not Reversible From The Beginning
To explain how he got there, Ajay Bhatt first recounts his journey as a fighter to convince Intel of the merits of the USB project:
“It took me between two and two and a half years to convince people, even our customers, that it was an investment in the future and bring people who thought the same thing together in the same place,
and before we could even have everyone in the same place, I had to find a fairly finite proposal that described our vision and all the possible answers to that vision”.
He added that the big problem at the time was the complexity of the PC for users. The latter needed a variety of different cables.
It was often necessary to install a new card, new drivers to use them. He was already thinking of a Plug & Play approach that seems so obvious nowadays.
But these difficulties led Ajay Bhatt to revise his ambitions downwards : “at first sight the objective was modest. But as we looked at the problem we realized that we could make something scalable”.
He adds: “the biggest problem was the cost”.
Ajay Bhatt then returns to the big defect of its USB connector: the fact that there is a meaning to insert it into the socket.
He explained that he would have preferred a reversible connector such as the USB type C. But objects: “If you have significant costs for a technology that has yet to prove itself, it may not take off. It was our fear.
He says that making a reversible connector then required twice as many cables and more complex circuits and would have exploded the cost of the technology. He recently reiterated this point to NPR.
In fact, if USB can still annoy us, it is precisely because the technology was both practical and cheap enough for us to end up using it everywhere.
Other universal connectors such as FireWire, for example, have never really succeeded in establishing themselves precisely because of their cost.
Now, then, you know: if you often make such a mistake when you connect a USB cable, it’s because many people have had to be convinced of the safety of a universal connector, and that this would make it very cheap!