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back to article USB reversible cables could become standard sooner than you think

There's usually a significant delay between a new technology hardware standard being finalized and seeing it in commercial systems, but the latest update to the USB spec looks like it's going to be rolled out much faster than people think. Google Play redesign One cable to rule them all (click to enlarge) Last week, the …

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Hope they do.

I hope they do and soon--and I also hope they're actually better connectors. The large USB is truly a poor design, I'm fed up with inserting it upside-down, only several weeks ago I broke the plastic that supports the contacts this way and partially stuffed the device the USB was in. Moreover, I didn't apply brute force.

It would be of considerable help if the new USBs had a very obvious keyway or its polarization was clearly obvious.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hope they do.

The way "reversible" is being trumpeted suggests that there is no key way - and the plug can be inserted either way up.

Usually it takes me at least four, rather than two, attempts to get a USB plug into a socket that is not at eye level.

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Two?

". . .getting rid of the familiar two-attempt fumble it takes many people to plug in today's USB cables."

Two-attempt? Two?

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2388#comic

Finally - a new technology that will actually reduce my stress and frustration!

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Coat

Agreed

On a bad day, when using a rear port blind, there can easily be as many as five incorrect orientations. Usually accompanied by wailing, gnashing of teeth, crunching of bones from being hideously contorted, and the suspicion that you had a previous incarnation as the sort of person described as a monster in history books.

Mine's the one with one sleeve ripped by repeated attempts to get a leg down it.

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The elusive brain cell discovered at last!

The total cost to business and consumers of the existing connector design over its lifetime must be enormous. Yes, it's only a few extra seconds, but add them all up and we are talking billions upon billions worth of lost time, and all because some design committee was brain-dead on the day the connector was finalised.

This - finally! - addresses the absurdly longstanding design farnarkleup. Yay! Unfortunately, it also continues the recent obsession with miniturising every damn thing, and I'm not convinced that that is a good idea. Will it be, despite the double-sided design, as fiddly to insert as most small connectors are? I'm guessing it won't be too bad, but that remains to be seen. And will it be robust enough to stand up to repeated use? Small connectors tend to break easily - they simply don't have enough metal in them to be very strong - and it would be a disaster to see USB easier to use at last but more prone to breakages. These days, remember, it is pretty much never cost effective to repair things like USB sockets (except on proper desktop systems, where everything is always repairable), and I can imagine a steady stream of sorry-sir-I-can't-fix-it, throw it away devices coming across my desk.

But maybe, given that the designers have finally discovered a brain cell to use for the basic design of the connector after all these years, they have pressed that cerebral item into overtime and designed a connector that's too tough to break in normal use. Let's hope so.

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Re: The elusive brain cell discovered at last!

The idea that "small connectors are more prone to breakages" is, to say the least, debatable.

In experience, supported by design, anecdotal and experimental data, the micro B connectors are more reliable than the mini B ones. And I think everyone here will have come across a damaged A connector (often where the "tongue" has been broken).

And in non-USB connectors, I tend to find HDMI and Displayport better than DVI and VGA, just because of the issues with bent pins. Apple's "Magsafe" connector is small but rugged (not, in my view, worth all the hoopla that pro-Apple people associate with it, but it's neat). Etc.

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the last hardware bane of desktop hardware support

even Executives should be able to figure this out now!

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Re: the last hardware bane of desktop hardware support

even Executives should be able to figure this out now!

I don't know. The problem with idiots, as someone once said, is that they're so damned ingenious. I'm sure they'll find some way to stick the thing in the wrong way!

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Re: the last hardware bane of desktop hardware support

It's the old 'balance war' issue again. You invent a better foolproof device, nature responds with a better fool.

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Re: the last hardware bane of desktop hardware support

I'm sure they'll find some way to stick the thing in the wrong way!

They'll jam the entire plug into one of the older USB sockets, or the RJ45 socket, or into one of the ventilation cutouts. There must be more but I can't think of them, because I'm a techie, not an executive.

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Re: You need to remember...

I don't think so, USB was designed to replace things like Centronics (IEEE 1284), RS-232 and RS-432 type connectors that were in use at the time.

USB was meant to be as fast as the fastest of those, smaller than the smallest and a standard size as well as more robust so that is could be regularly connected and disconnected without bending or breaking pins.

In addition to that, USB devices were all supposed to be hot-pluggable (not recommended for some devices using the previous standards) and it made it standard to put sockets on machines and peripherals so that all cables were plugs. In the olden days there was no standard, so every IT person in the land had to have a drawer full of M-M and F-F adapters for emergencies.

You youngsters don't know the half of it :-)

Now you basically have USB as A-A or A-B and a length.

Back then an RS-232 could be 9-9 pin, 24-24 pin, 9-24 pin and then the gender connectors on top of that - 10 combinations before you even get to length. And then on top of that, not all pins had to be connected or even in the same order, so you had to have all of those combinations along with further ones for things like pass-through and crossover.

Some places I worked at had entire stock rooms full of the various cable combinations and nothing else.

</PYTHON_YORKSHIREMAN_PARODY>

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Re: using it to charge small electronic devices

Not as laughable as you assert.

I once had a real problem with a scanner that drew it's power from the USB port. Scanner worked just fine on the desktop where we tested it. User had at laptop she used at home and brought it in for us to hookup the portable flatbed scanner. Scanner installed just fine, then utterly failed to work. Turned out the ultra-portable laptop didn't provide power on the USB channel. Comms worked just fine so it would see it and install it, but there wasn't enough juice to run the motors for the scanner head. Both ports were full sized because this was before USB connectors started making RS-232 look sedate and staid by comparison. We resolved the issue by having the client purchase a powered USB hub to daisy chain the laptop and scanner.

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Re: You need to remember...

"Back then an RS-232 could be 9-9 pin, 24-24 pin, 9-24 pin and then the gender connectors on top of that - 10 combinations before you even get to length. And then on top of that, not all pins had to be connected or even in the same order,"

<pedant>

Close. Not 24, but 25 pins. DB9F, DB9M, DB25F, DB25M. To add to the joy to increase density of RS-232C/EIA-232 we got varying configurations of 8P8C (RJ45) and DEC's MMJ etc.

</pedant>

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You need to remember...

> Not 24, but 25 pins

That's 25 before they started bending / snapping / falling off.

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The Universal Serial Bus was the newfangled replacement for attaching peripherals to your computer. Previously you had a huge parallel or slightly smaller serial termination.

Bent and broken pins where common and there where typically no more than 2 ports on a system. USB was luxury!

Sounds like the USB steering group has just invented ThunderBolt.

They may as well just call it thunderbolt, be done with it and start work on the next gen USB standard.

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Uh, goofballs, all you need to do is look at the connecter. Where the seam is on the connecter goes on the bottom of the port.

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Anonymous Coward

Uh, goofball, you're looking at the old connectors that exist for backwards compatibility. Look at the "type C" connector.

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Uh Kev, on the back of my computer the USB connectors are vertical. So does the seam go to the left or the right? Also, is that the computer's right or my right - viewed from which position and orientation?

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don't forget Amazon

I locate the two small springy things: on my phones and tablet, they are inserted upwards, on the Kindles the other way.

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Kev99 wrote "Uh, goofballs, all you need to do is look at the connecter. Where the seam is on the connecter goes on the bottom of the port."

No. Ports don't generally have an obvious "up" - a great many of them are vertically oriented, and they are sprinkled at random on front, back, left and right side of the system. Some laptops even have some vertical ports plus some other horizontal ones. So, in reality, this is not much practical help. People still fumble and waste time looking for the right way round to plug things.

Secondly, the seam (or the label) is often far from obvious, particularly in poor lighting conditions, and in any case you can't see it if you are fumbling around on your knees feeling for the back of the computer wondering why your USB gadget won't plug into what later turns out to be a ridiculously-similar looking HDMI port.

Thirdly, laptop manufacturers take gleeful pride in sloping the sides of the laptop such that you can't see the ports anyway. (Standfast one particular model from ... er .. might have been Medion ... which very sensibly sloped outwards meaning that you could see all the ports without turning it upside down.

The USB standard plug should have been semi-circular in the first place. Or reversible, of course.

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Anonymous Coward

Uh Kev, on the back of my computer the USB connectors are vertical. So does the seam go to the left or the right? Also, is that the computer's right or my right - viewed from which position and orientation?

At least in this case, you generally have a safe spot. According to the ATX design spec, if a case is standing upright, the right side, when viewed from the front, will be the "bottom" of the breakout plate because the motherboard is mounted against that side of the case. Most USB ports for ATX boards will be oriented "upright" in pairs, so the first direction one should try for a blind insertion in an upright case would be to orient the A plug such that the bottom is to your right.

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The USB standard plug should have been semi-circular in the first place. Or reversible, of course.

Or coaxial, like a headphone jack.

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It's extremely difficult to make a coaxial plug electrically safe. You can get away with a headphone jack due to the low power involved. One of the design aspects of USB is that earth is always the first to connect.

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Part of the problem with current (micro at least) USB seems to be there's no standard way for the socket itself to be oriented. I've got a selection of tablets, different e-readers and phones, and with the screen facing you some need the micro-USB inserted with the wider side of the USB upwards (top of socket is towards the screen side), and some with it downwards (top of the socket is towards the back side of the device).

It would certainly help if there could be an over-riding "normal" as to which way up the damn socket should be, so all we need to concern with is which way up the plug-end actually is...

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Facepalm

Re:the bottom of the port

Which might be on the left, or the right hand side..or the top; which may be underneath.

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Anonymous Coward

> So does the seam go to the left or the right?

Oh, that's an easy one: the logo on the connector is supposed to face the user. Except when it doesn't, of course.

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There must be 10 billion usb devices kicking around by now. Its about time they redesigned it making them all obsolete, forcing us to throw them away and buy new ones.

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Anonymous Coward

Convenient

Right now, to plug my laptop into my TV, I need an HDMI cable and a proprietary power connector. Would be nice if it were all just one cable.

Would like to get rid of HDMI altogether, but I guess higher bandwidth is needed for all the 4K they are trying to push.

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Re: Convenient

You could use a lower power device than a laptop for watching video or making slideshow presentations... then you can use MHL 2.0 (5 V DC/900 mA with MHL 2.0) to charge a device whilst watching video, or using an app.

MHL 3.0 can provide up to 10W.

Making every TV able to power every laptop, though occasionally convenient, isn't going to happen anytime soon. Maybe time to invest £30 on a Raspberry Pi, a Google Chromecast dongle, or some other media streamer?

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Monitors

They are upgrading to 10Gb and think it will replace monitor cables and allow daisy chaining them just as Apple are allegedly looking at a double Thunderbolt to even support their next display on its own.

I don't want a connector being released next year to be designed for stuff I bought last year, I want it to be designed for things I don't have yet, like a 4k monitor which I would hope become more standard and need more bandwidth. Apple aren't perfect but the PC industry seems determined to prevent progress, and after the 10 year set back of "hi def" screens I think we need to shout loudly at them now that display port is a fine standard for monitors.

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Re: Monitors

"I want it to be designed for things I don't have yet."

The trouble is that reality never throws a straight ball (or to use cricket lingo, it's a nasty spin bowler). You try to anticipate technology going one way, you suddenly find out it's gone somewhere entirely different, making your spec useless. For example, there's a distinct likelihood monitor cables in and of themselves will be obsoleted in the near future with short-range high-bandwidth wireless. That's probably why tech companies are leery to plan for the future: the plan tends to go awry.

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Doh..

You are all aware that the USB symbol printed on the plastic housing on the end of the cable signifies "This way up"????

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Re: Doh..

Doh yes we are aware. But you don't seem to be aware that it is usually printed or stamped so faintly and with such poor colour contrast that most people can't easily make it out without their reading glasses, and even if they can, it doesn't help much because they still don't know which way around the port to plug it in to has been oriented.So they guess, and 50% of the time guess wrong, sometimes breaking stuff, not least because they have learned to use quite a lot of force because some socket-plug combinations are very stiff and need a very firm push to insert correctly while others are as loose and sloppy as your logic.

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FAIL

Re: Doh..

I have at least one cable that has the USB symbol on the underside instead of the topside, and a number of cables that don't have the symbol on either side. I've taken to marking the cables with a silver-colored (exCUSE ME, "coloured") permanent marker to identify "up".

Still doesn't help when the port itself was installed upside down.

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Re: Doh..

It would be fine if you could guarantee me which way up the damn socket was actually installed too, given "up" could physically be pointing up, down, left or right.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Doh..

Odds are it's either up or right. A left port usually means a BTX case which is deprecated while an upside-down port usually means the device is upside-down.

Easiest way to picture the orientation is to figure out where the motherboard is mounted, as almost all USB ports are mounted "upright" relative to the motherboard.

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Re: Doh..

Ahh, so the fact that a great deal of you cant see it because your eyes are bad warrants disagreeing with my factually correct statement. Or that your crappy Hu-Flung-Dung ebay connectors were moulded wrong also warrants the downvotes.

Oh the butt hurt......

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Re: Doh..@bob, mon!

"I have at least one cable that has the USB symbol on the underside instead of the topside, .....Still doesn't help when the port itself was installed upside down."

Surely it does. So long as you're not paying attention to the fact that the symbol's on the wrong side, then it's going to work a treat on the upside down port, if nowhere else in the world.

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Happy

Re: Doh..

No! Your OTHER right up!

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Trollface

Re: Doh....(@cornz 1)

Ahh, so the fact that a great deal of you cant see it because your eyes are bad warrants disagreeing with my factually correct statement. Or that your crappy Hu-Flung-Dung ebay connectors were moulded wrong also warrants the downvotes.

Oh the butt hurt......

Translation: "The fact that my suggestion is useless to a large number, and the "always true" assertion is not always true makes people want to down-vote me for coming across as arrogant and calling them stupid.

Ow, my butt hurts"

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So now I will be able to go through three or four different types of cables

before I find the one that actually fits easily into the invisible USB socket behind the rack.

This is NOT going to make it easier unless I upgrade all my equipment - it will be just another thing that makes me drop my dentists mirror down the back.

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Re: So now I will be able to go through three or four different types of cables

Well, you could buy a few short USB extension cables, or a USB hub... not ideal, but surely easier and cheaper than buying all new kit?

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Jack Off?

It's bad enough doing the "reach around" the back of our PC's to find the standard USB ports, to feel for the hole, how on earth are we supposed to fumble for this diddly little orifice to insert our jacks?

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Re: Jack Off?

Use 'Sugru' to make a tactile guide for your fumbling fingers, perhaps.

Or use a USB hub.

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Joke

"how on earth are we supposed to fumble for this diddly little orifice to insert our jacks?"

The way I generally look for a little orifice to insert my jack is by generally using my fingers to feel around for it before I ram it home.

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FAIL

Should have been like that...

from the start. Think the first time I used a USB device, I was like WTF why doesn't this work either way round???

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Firewire ?

Very surprised no one has mentioned the fun of having a firewire port next to a USB (like my laptop). Hours of fun thinking you just have to line it up straight to connect, and then realise it's the *other* side.

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Anonymous Coward

Right way round !!!

What does that even mean, I have on my desk two, apparently identical, DELL 2007FP monitors, with USB ports on the side, inserting connectors into these ports has brought me endless 'amusement' as they are opposite way round on each monitor.

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Joke

Obsolete technology...

But a USB plug that can go in either way round will make obsolete the hardware in every computer that rotates the USB socket 180 degrees between each insertion attempt.

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