The Evolution of the USB Cable: Meet the Next Big Thing

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The universal serial bus (USB) is the most ubiquitous connector type computers use. Just about everything, from computer mice and keyboards to printers and other external devices, uses a USB plug. The standard is about to get a major update.

A Brief History of the USB Device

Before the universal serial bus, connecting anything to a computer was a nightmare. Each device had its own connector type. This made it very hard for computer manufacturers and peripheral developers alike to ensure cross-compatibility between devices. A group of computer manufacturers got together to form the USB-IF, with the goal of developing a universal standard connector for computers and peripherals.

Members include most of the major computer manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard and Dell. The USB-IF released the USB plug and cable in 1995. Since then, the standard has been revised four times, with each revision bringing faster speeds and better interoperability. The last revision occurred in 2008, when USB 3.0 came out.

Development and Release

Although USB cables have made connections between devices easier, the process can be frustratingly awkward. If you’ve ever fumbled around trying to find the upside of a USB cable, then you know the feeling. The USB-IF has come up with a new USB interface that’ll make this problem a thing of the past.

It presented the new interface and cable — USB type C — at the Intel Developers’ Conference in Shenzhen, China this April. Unlike the USB connectors in use, the Type C connector is vertically symmetrical and is the same at either end. It has no “correct” orientation. In addition, it makes an audible click when it’s correctly seated. USB-IF expects to release the type C connector in July 2014.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The Type C connector does away with two of the worst frustrations with current cables, namely the frustrating dance of getting it oriented correctly and confirming that it’s seated properly. Another plus is that its smaller size will allow for slimmer devices. As for disadvantages, the major one is that it won’t be backward compatible. You’ll only be able to benefit from Type C if you buy a new device that uses it. A more minor one is that the smaller size will make it easier to lose.

Devices Using Type C

Expect Type C on most devices made after the summer of 2014. Google’s Nexus 6 and Samsung’s Note 4¬†are already slated to feature it. Although Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is already out, newer builds will feature the new standard. In addition to mobile applications, a new generation of slimmer laptops will be possible because of smaller USB ports. Read more about devices and Type C here.

On the whole, the USB Type C plug is a positive development. While losing backward compatibility is regrettable, the cable’s symmetry is a step forward, and the smaller size will allow computer and mobile device manufacturers to build slimmer and lighter components. The earliest devices to take advantage of the new system will be mobile devices like phones and tablets, but laptop and desktop computer manufacturers will soon follow.

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