Jabbing at computer ports, when trying to insert USB cables that are almost always the wrong way up, has been very annoying. It was in 2014 when USB 3.1 Type-C connector was created, making the USB port reversible. But, until then, what could have been the real reason for making it non-flippable in the very first place?
Well, talking to Design News, the co-inventor of USB, Ajay Bhatt, shared some enriching insights into the early days of USB development. He says that when the development of USB started in the mid-1990s, its goal was pretty modest — to simply improve the compatibility among different devices. But as they got into it, they realized they could actually come up with something that would be more scalable. But the biggest issue his team encountered was cost as it had to compete with other standards to co-exist before convincing the users to make a complete transition.
“The biggest deal was the cost. The new standard had to coexist with everything that existed before. So before life got better it had to get a little more complicated because you couldn’t get rid of a serial port and parallel ports outright. You had to add one more port and over time move people from legacy to USB,” Bhatt said.
Back then, Bhatt and the team at Intel knew that making the connector flippable would go a long way in improving usability, but it was simply not feasible from a cost perspective. Making a reversible connector would have also increased complexity, as would have required double the number of wires and even more circuitry – all things that cost money and would have passed a higher price down to the consumer. As this technology was new and unproven in the market, this could have been an economic risk for them.
“If you have a lot of cost up front for an unproven technology it might not take off. So that was our fear. You have to be really cost conscious when you start out,” Bhatt said.
“I think, even looking back, starting modestly was the way to go. It allowed us to focus on a much wider variety of products to start with and over time we were able to improve the performance over time anyway,” Bhatt says.