Is USB Becoming the Same Problem It Was Meant to Solve?

You have just bought a new electronic device that can be charged with a USB port. You are thrilled. Life is so convenient with USB charging. But wait. It turns out the device doesn’t come with a cable. You are not worried, though. You will just use one of the other cables you have at home. Or will you?

If this sounds familiar, it is a safe bet that USB devices are a big part of your life. But those devices may not be as convenient as they could otherwise be. The reason is simple: device ports are changing at an ever faster pace. The cable for one device doesn’t fit another because ports are different. This leads one to wonder if USB is becoming the same problem it was meant to solve.

1. Standardizing Peripheral Ports

It was 1994 when seven technology companies got together to develop USB (universal serial bus) standards. USB was officially released some two years later. The main impetus behind developing it was to address the confusing mess that was VGA, serial, and parallel ports.

None of the seven companies was Apple. That tells you something. Apple had already begun developing its own proprietary ports guaranteeing its peripherals would work seamlessly. The PC community had to compete. They did so by coming up with USB.

For the longest time, standardization has been one of the primary benefits of USB. On your computer, you can use a USB port to charge your phone, send data to a flash drive, hook up a wireless keyboard or mouse, or run your printer. You can even recharge USB lithium-ion batteries from Pale Blue Earth.

Having said that, it is best to charge your Pale Blue Earth batteries with the cable provided. Why? Because other charger cables in your collection might not fit. Therein lies the concern. As USB technology has evolved, device ports have also evolved.

2. Multiple Cables and Adapters

We are now into the fourth iteration of the USB standard. Each iteration requires a different kind of cable. If you do not have the right cable, an adapter will do. All of this seems quite reasonable until you realize that the current situation now more closely resembles the problem developers were facing when they first came up with USB.

For example, consider the USB-C cable. It is a 24-pin connector now pretty standard on Android cell phones. Even Apple has adopted it for its MacBooks. It is a great cable for lightning fast charging and high data speeds. But it will not fit any and all electronic devices.

The end that plugs into the USB port is standard. The other end is not. So if you don’t have a USB-C cable for your phone or laptop, you might have to use a standard USB cable with a 24 pin adapter. The same is true if you are using a micro USB cable.

Micro USB cables are pretty typical for GPS units, MP3 players, Bluetooth speakers, and the like. You can tell it is a micro by the size of the plug that fits into your device. It should be obvious, but you cannot plug a micro USB cable into a USB-C device. You either have to get the right cable or purchase an adapter.

Whether you are talking USB rechargeable batteries or smartphones, it all boils down to proprietary interests. Manufacturers want you to buy only their devices. So they gradually move in the proprietary direction. That is why we have USB to begin with. Unfortunately, it looks like USB is going the same way as the technology that preceded it.

Tom Roberts: Tom, a gadget enthusiast, provides detailed reviews of the latest tech gadgets, smartphones, and consumer electronics.

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