USB inventor regrets making them so difficult to plug in correctly


While plugging plug a mouse, a phone, or a thumb drive into your computer, you try to stick the USB into its slot, only to find it stopping prematurely. You flip it around, but it still won’t go in. So you flip it back to the original position and it slides in without a hitch.

We’ve all been there, and the inventor of the USB sees our pain.

Ajay Bhatt, the leader behind the IBM team that gave us the USB in the mid-’90s, revealed in an interview with NPR Friday that he is well aware of the annoyances the public has with USB, or Universal Serial Bus, but there’s a reason it’s designed the way it is.

“The biggest annoyance is reversibility,” Bhatt told NPR. He’s got that right.

For outsiders, it seems like designing the USB so it can be reversible would be an easy fix to everyone’s problems, so no matter which way you stick it in it’s a success. Bhatt told NPR that would have doubled the cost of the technology, requiring double the wires and circuits.

Another option that the Intel team floated was a round design, but that would have been even more difficult to plug in correctly.

Although the rectangle design we all know was ultimately chosen and adopted by pretty much every hardware manufacturer since Apple first put USB ports into its computers in 1998, Bhatt acknowledges that there may have been a better way.

“In hindsight, based on all the experiences that we all had, of course it was not as easy as it should be,” Bhatt said.

But what is life without a little bit of suffering?

There are alternatives to the classic USB, such as the much newer USB-C, which is reversible, but it hasn’t been widely adopted yet. Maybe someday it will be as ubiquitous as the original USB and the days of somehow failing twice at a 50-50 shot of plugging something in will be a thing of the past, talked about in the way we talk about VHS tapes, landlines, and existing within a livable climate.

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