Why does USB keep changing?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/05/25/why-does-usb-keep-changing.html


data transfer rates and power consumption have variable needs over time.

cost efficient cables can’t be produced variable enough to keep up with peripherals’ power and data needs.

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For those of us who have problems identifying the correct way to plug a usb in just remember: if you can see the usb logo on the top of a plug, you’re plugging it in the right way.

Or, if you’re using a Macbook, the wrong way. I’m still irrationally peeved that Apple deliberately put their USB plugs upside down just so that the Apple logo on the bottom of their USB cable ends would be uppermost.


I was actually involved with USB from before the official launch (we needed an NDA at the time) and the explainer got one minor detail wrong, or at least incomplete.

The push to use USB for phone chargers actually originated in China. At the time, there was no mobile service there and the government was unhappy with the waste stream that resulted from constantly-changing incompatible chargers for mobile phones. The government made it a condition of allowing mobile phone introduction to China (which they really wanted because of the wiring they could avoid) that the industry adopt a single charger interface and specs. China didn’t care which interface the industry chose, but it had to put an end to the constant replacement cycle.

The rest followed. The EU had already mandated the actual signalling standard across the EU (while every carrier in the USA had something different – we’re only now getting out of that mess) and the MOI for chargers was mostly a matter of recognizing what had already been agreed upon.


Lol, very timely for me. My camera uses a micro or mini… the one that did not flourish. I have to find to cable if I want to update the firmware.

Maybe the wifi on the camera will be updated once I find the cable so that my other devices will not hold their noses in disgust when I tell them to connect to the camera.


I don’t really recognize the premise that USB connectors “keep changing”. Over the 25ish years prior to USB-C, the A end has never changed, and the B end has always been the same for for chonky peripherals. So the only thing people can be talking about is when micro-B replaced the not-that-popular mini-B. (Ignoring never-seen variants like micro-A and that stupid one).

As with Apple’s phone charging connectors, “they keep changing it” seems to mean “it changed exactly once, and I reckon having even noticed the change qualifies me for coveted ‘nerd’ status on Twitter”.

However, if you wanted to point and laugh at the banana-skid-into-manure-pile disappointment that is USB-C itself, I’m on board with that.


My bigger issue with USB is its use as a ubiquitous power connector. So many pieces of electronics now use micro USB (or some equivalent) for a power connection. Those solder points fail very often through being tugged or pushed, and have no lifetime compared to a barrel pin connector.

A great example of this is the Beatstep Pro which is near useless as a used purchase as you have no idea how rough the previous user was during plugging and unplugging. Tons of Beatstep Pro’s can’t be powered now because of this dumb connector. Good thread on this: https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=174502

If I get anything with a USB power connection, I pick up a magnetic connector. Unfortunately, these aren’t available for all USB formats.


I suppose a good joke headline might be Why does USB keep charging (plugged in electronics)

The obligatory, but very true, proof that USB A connectors exist in 4-dimensional space:



Over the 25ish years prior to USB-C, the A end has never changed, and the B end has always been the same for for chonky peripherals.

USB-2 and USB-3 A connectors look the same, but the -2 connectors have four pins while the -3 connectors have 9.

The B connectors don’t even look the same. The -3 connectors have a mezzanine for the extra pins. But a -2 male B can still plug into a -3 female B.


Did I miss something? Did USB change again last night?


I once discovered that those micro USB cables can be inserted upside down, destroying the female connector and pretty much bricking the device. I am ashamed of how long it took to debug this issue. Ever since I have a fear of inserting those in low light. Lightning makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Hopefully upside-downabilty will be the last change needed for a while.


Yeah-- the USB forum just announced the USB_Dsub connector.


You know, USB-A connects into a male DB-9 just fine, At a physical level anyway.


Can someone back this up with more information? It sounds a lot like what the EU is pushing. Only oh so many years ago.

I worked at radio shack in 2008. A bit before the micro USB standardization push.

In our selection of camera cables There were no fewer than 7 distinct and non-interchangeable tips that all were connected to standard male USB-A plugs for your computer.

Phillips, Sony, RCA, Samsung, Toshiba, Fuji, and Kodak all had mutually exclusive tips for their USB data cables. You could even buy adapters that flipped between them. One of my favorite time wasters was to see how many tip conversions I could do before the chain failed.

We are so much better off these days with just micro USB and USB-C. Honestly everything ought to convert to USB-C. It’s just better.


Absolutely this. And also the proliferation of “power only” USB connectors where it claims to be USB but the data pins actually don’t form a connection because that’d add $0.0003 to the manufacturing cost of the cable.


Careful. Some USB-C cables don’t support 130W power delivery and/or thunderbolt 3.


130w charging and thunderbolt aren’t compatible with any previous USB standard at all. All implementations of USB-C are reversible and won’t get all chewed up from pulling it out of the port. That’s alone is plenty of reason to prefer it over micro USB