The USB plug: A design fail

USB plug

USB connections are ubiquitous nowadays and have almost completely replaced the old parallel and serial connectors we used to use to connect peripherals to our computers. Most of us are using USB 2.0 just now but USB 3.0 is almost upon us. Of course the new standard will have a similar connector as the old one for backwards compatibility. But what a pity a little more thought wasn’t put into design at the beginning.

The old serial and parallel connectors were shaped in such a way that you could only plug them in one way. Not so the USB Type A connector which we commonly use nowadays. You can try and shove it in the wrong way, as I’ve done many a time – it’s a 50:50 chance. Often when this fails, I turn it over, try to plug it in that way, realise this is wrong too, turn it back and it fits – not patient enough the first time I guess. There is a USB symbol on one side which should show the correct way to plug it, but often these symbols are a dull black on black (not very useful when you’re struggling at the back of a PC in a dimly lit room) or sometimes there’s no symbol present at all. And if the USB socket for the plug is mounted vertically, there’s no indication which way round it should go. I’ve resorted to marking the correct way in blue permanent marker or coloured sticky disks but I shouldn’t have to do this. An asymmetrical shape would have helped to plug them correctly and indeed the asymmetrically shaped USB Type B connectors which connect to printers for example are fine. Why couldn’t we have had a similar bevelled edge design for the USB Type A connectors?

Yes, it’s a little late to complain about them now that they’re so well established. But there is a design concept afoot for a Double USB connector which will plug in no matter which way you try so perhaps there’s hope for a solution yet.

How do you get round USB connector problems? I’m sure I’m not alone.

2 Responses

  1. Iris Says:

    why are round USB plugs not more common? Those seem to be the ideal mistake-proofed devices and they exist already!

  2. ParrotSquawk Says:

    I think the OTHER end of the cables are the bigger problem: mini and microUSB connectors always come loose from the devices. The soft metal cases deform and the wires are often so small that they often break after little use.

    I have worked on alternatives but some of my devices have docks and therefore require industry-standard connectors. I am finally getting fed up with microUSBs enough to get back to tinkering.

    As for Iris’ comment, round has it’s problems. Ever try to use an S-VHS cable and bent the pins?

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