Revealed: Why Old-School USB Cables Never Fit the First Time

John Lister's picture

The man who co-created the USB plug says its greatest annoyance was simply a matter of cost. Ajay Bhatt says that in the original design of the USB-A cable, the plugs were not reversible in order to keep costs down, which would then help get the format established.

Bhatt discussed his work in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR). He talked about the often baffling experience in which users would try to plug a USB cable in, find that it would not fit, flip it over, find it didn't fit (again), then flip it back to its original orientation and find that inexplicably it now fit. It's a particular problem given sockets are often at the back of computers or below a desk and thus out of sight. (Source:

Perhaps surprisingly, Bhatt says he and his colleagues at Intel designed the plug with usability in mind. Before the USB became widely adopted, devices connected to a PC required countless different types of connections and cables. Now, USB is the golden standard - whether it's a connecting a printer or cell phone, charging a tablet, and even connecting two PCs together.

Cost Implications Severe

That said, many long-suffering users have wished the plugs were reversible - something that finally came to reality with the USB-C format adopted in 2014. Unfortunately, USB-C is still nowhere near being widely used compared to previous revisions.

Bhatt says that having a reversible USB (such as the USB-C) wasn't originally possible because it would have required twice the wiring and circuitry. The idea made up so much of the cost that the cables would have been twice as expensive. (Source:

While it may seem like that was penny-pinching, Bhatt argues price was paramount for the new format. It had to overcome the Catch-22 situation of nobody making or buying USB cables until devices had sockets, but nobody putting USB sockets on devices until the cables were widely used.

Family Frustration Inspired USB

Bhatt says a higher price would have deterred major PC manufacturers from taking the first step to break that logjam. That came with the original iMac in 1998 which was arguable the first mainstream device to use the tech.

Despite the irritation of the non-reversibility, Bhatt notes that USB did make people's lives much easier. He's previously told how he was inspired to develop a standard tech cable after being frustrated with repeat calls from home.

In this case, he recalled how his family struggled to figure out which of several formats of cable was needed to connect their printer to the computer. Before USB-A caught on, it was the parallel port cable that was commonly used to do this, though some printers also connected using a serial cable (which was also commonly used for mice or modems).

What's Your Opinion?

Have you used USB-C cables? If so, have you found their reversibility significantly useful? What are the best and worst things about USB today?

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Average: 4.8 (9 votes)


HLSinker's picture

Purchased new HP Laptop w/usb-c, went to HP for purchase of USB-C adaptor with USB_A attachments. Did not work after repeated tries gave up.

kitekrazy's picture

I have micro usb ports that have become faulty along with the cables.

ifopackets_10683's picture

There are a lot of different designs about how these are soldered to the MB.
I found that out while trying to get a new Micro usb socket for a cheap tablet.

BTW: GOOD cell phones seem to have VERY good physical support when they are
attached to their printed circuit boards. RickG

sjk2268_12441's picture

I read this article and the NPR article more than once and I still don't know why it takes three tries, WHY DOES IT?!??!? :)

Dennis Faas's picture

It's called the USB Paradox :)

This image explains the situation perfectly:

ifopackets_10683's picture

No physical dexterity?

supernovatj_10151's picture

Because the 3d time you do it more carefully than the first.

no1dean's picture

I don't have anything that uses type USB-C connectors.

I like the type A which are easily distinguishable by the split metal on one side making it the bottom, which would go down/be on bottom when reaching around the back, sides, or front of a desktop related to bottom of cmptr. Same w/ a laptop directionally.
I don't like the micro USB; now they are hard to distinguish top & bottom. And the port is weak on some products, like poorly mounted/designed and prone to breakage.
But I especially like the MINI USB, but it seems like nobody uses that port anymore. But it was easy to tell orientation to plug in and was solid.

The Apple Lightning connector is good in concept (even though it's not USB), but you have to also be careful inserting & removing it.

matt_2058's picture

I like USB-C mainly because it it smaller than the USB-A. USB-A orientation does not bother me ... I just flip it over and go. Much better than Parallel and Serial connections and screwing those in.

I got a handfull of adapters that fit the USB-Micro to USB-C and Apple Lightning. I like my old Android phone 10ft flat/tangle-free cords and can keep using them this way for tablets and iPhone.