[old ZX Spectrum loading sounds]
[FuNkY uptempo advertising music]
Are you fed up with dealing with all manner of different connections?
Serial, Parallel, bespoke chargers, bespoke data connections?!
Well fear no more, because USB is here!
You'll never have to worry about having boxes of cables ever again.
Thank you to today's sponsor, Square Space.
More on that later.
Oh, apart from the fact that since it was announced, USB connections seemed to change
every damn year!
[Easy lounge jazz]
OK, so that's an exaggeration, but since mini connectors were introduced with USB 2.0, we've
been through numerous revisions, along with all manner of different types.
It seems like the dream of a single cable, suitable for all, even 20 years later, still
hasn't quite become the reality.
But why? and how? and why?
[Jazz music lingers in the USB filled air]
Well, let's begin with the introduction of USB.
Introduced in January 1996, with a maximum data transfer rate of 12Mbit/s.
The idea, pushed by a consortium of 7 companies, was to make it easier to connect peripherals
to your PC.
I've covered this in a previous video, where I delve into what we had before USB, but this
is where it started, with representatives from these companies creating the USB Implementers
Forum; a nonprofit organisation setup to devise, promote, support and enforce compliance with
this new USB architecture.
Initially, funding was provided by the companies involved, but ongoing, the USB Implementers
Forum would source funding from licencing.
$5,000 for an annual USB-IF membership will grant you a vendor ID, allowing you to seek
a certificate of compliance, or $3,500 will grant you a licence to use the USB logo, for
a two year term
Of course, the initial company support was crucial, as it would take a while for USB
to propagate into the world of PCs.
Most people didn't get a sniff of it until USB 1.1 emerged in 1998, which was handy,
as version 1.0 had a few issues, relating to timing and power supply.
1.1 is the point that Microsoft coined the term "Legacy-free PC".
Although at this stage, you'd expect USB A ports to appear on new PCs, maybe a couple
on the back, alongside your standard ports.
Any peripherals shunning the slow serial or parallel ports of old and making use of this
spanking technology would either be hard wired up or have USB-B connector on their end.
Now, you might ask, what was the point in having both a type A and type B connector?
It's a good question.
The type B connector is electrically identical.
It has the same pins, but the size is different intentionally to prevent users from connecting
a host to another host, resulting in a short circuit.
At this stage USB ports didn't tend to have graceful handling of power errors, so two
connections trying to send .5v down the same line, wasn't a good situation.
And this is the whole premise behind the A and B designation.
A is for the host, B is for the slave device.
AND not only that; for those of us who have problems identifying the correct way to plug
a USB in; just remember, if you can see the USB logo on the top of the plug, you're plugging
it in, the right way....
That's just solved 20 years worth of plugging issues in one go.
unless your USB sockets are mounted sideways, and then I'm afraid no one can help you
However, lumping a MASSIVE USB B connection on a digital camera, wasn't very graceful.
It just looked a bit excessive.
There was no provision for a smaller connector on the slave end, as the USB specification
assumed a tethered or hard wired connection.
So some companies actually broke the rules a little and implemented a standard A connector
on their peripheral, or just implemented their own bespoke connectors, such as this little
It would be the USB 2.0 revision, published in May 2000, which first offered a mini B
In the USB-IF's own words, "The USB 2.0 specified device side connector - the B connector - is
too large for use with a new generation of handheld and mobile devices, e.g. cell phones
which would benefit from connectivity to a PC.
So, through improved hardware, USB 2.0 had brought with it the potential for a whopping
480MBit/s transfer rate, with the cable consisting of two power conductors and two signal conductors,
same as 1.1.
And this speed could be pushed through a now, mini connector, completely opening up the
world of peripherals in terms of both size and operation.
But, the world was changing rapidly.
The situation of having a distinct host and slave device was becoming a bottleneck.
In the past, this arrangement had worked wonderfully.
It meant that slave devices, such as a mouse, DJ deck or even PDA device had to possess
very little logic in this regard, as the host would supply the power and handle all the
communication over the bus.
This leaves slave peripherals needing only to poll when they require the host to do something.
This is fine for most setups, but what if you want your printer to be able to take on
the role of the host and read data to and from a USB stick, or you want your PDA to
act as a host for your mobile phone.
Well, then we need a different solution.
This is where USB On-The-Go makes an entrance.
First appearing in late 2001, in a supplement to the USB 2 specification.
The Mini AB receptacle was introduced, and with it, the Mini A plug; now providing us
with a mini host plug, and a mini slave plug.
Now the Mini AB receptacle can accept either the Mini A or Mini B connection, but due to
the way these plugs are presented, and the pins are aligned, the device can detect which
one it is.
Allowing the peripheral to swap roles.
To enable the peripheral to identify whether it's acting as a host or slave, the AB receptacle
has an extra ID pin, in addition to the four standard contacts.
If a Mini A is plugged in, the additional ID pin in the mini-A cable receptacle connects
with the GND pin of the plug.
If a Mini B is plugged in, it is left unconnected, and a pull-up resistor is used to detect the
absence of the connection.
Thus, the peripheral can initially act as master or slave, without causing power issues,
or invalidating the A-B assignment of previous cables.
Reportedly, there are also a few rare handheld devices which had solely mini-A receptacles,
allowing them to act as a standard host arrangement.
But I'll be damned if I can find any.
So, the world looks rosy.
We've got mini connectors, with got standard connectors, we've got on-the-go compatibility.
Why would anything, ever change from this point forward.
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[Calming musical notes]
Seriously, what the hell chaps?
We had everything sorted, and now you pull this one out of the bag???.....
fine, alright then.
Announced by the USB-IF on 4th January 2007, here we have a plug which is almost exactly
the same width as Mini-USB, but half the thickness, and the reason?
Well, the UBS 2.0 Specification Revision 1.01 of April 4th 2007 states;
"USB has become a popular interface for exchanging data between cell phone and portable devices.
Many of these devices have become so small it is
impossible to use standard USB components as defined in the
USB 2.0 specification.
In addition the durability requirements of the Cell Phone and Portable Devices
market exceed the specifications of the current interconnects.
Since Cell Phones and other small Portable Devices are the largest market potential for
USB, this specification is addressing this very large market
while meeting all the requirements for electrical performance within the USB 2.0 specification."
The scope goes on to clarify;
"Cell phone and Portable Devices have become so thin that the current Mini-USB does not
fit well within the constraints of future designs.
Additional requirements for a more rugged connector that will have durability
past 10,000 cycles and still meet the USB 2.0 specification for mechanical and electrical
performance was also a consideration.
The Mini-USB could not be modified and remain backward compatible to the existing
connector as defined in the USB OTG specification."
So there're our reasons.
Mobile phones were becoming too thin to support Mini-USB, and the connector just wasn't rugged
The Mini connector was rated at 5,000 insertions, whilst Micro is rated at at least 10,000.
This includes the fact that Mini-USB put the mechanical strain on the socket, rather than
Here's the weak point; this sticky out bump, which could pull and tug, and become distorted.
This often led to disconnected sockets and damage to peripherals, rather than a cheap,
easy to replace cable.
You can see on this Micro USB-B plug, that it now has springy metal catches, which hold
the plug firmly, without putting too much strain on the receptacle.
OK, well that all sounds reasonable.
But dig a little deeper, and actually we find that, as with many things in this world, the
decision to move to Micro USB, wasn't solely the decision of the USB-IF.
It was perhaps pushed by one of the big guns at the time, Nokia.
[Mysterious tension music]
In June of 2007 Apple's iPhone was set to storm the mobile phone market.
Up until that point, companies like Nokia, Sony, Blackberry, even Panasonic were still
heavyweights in the market.
But clearly, having already been announced in January of the same year, Apple's new entry
had these companies pretty concerned.
They knew they had to step their game up, and no one knew this more than Nokia.
Even at this point, Nokia were still relying on their standard barrel plug chargers for
a lot of their range.
Phones like the 5700 XpressMusic had a Mini-USB, but they were still pretty chunky slabs, unlike
Nokia needed to change tact.
Nokia's premium phone, the 8600 Luna was one of their first models to adopt MicroUSB.
Paired with a stainless steel body, 2 Mega Pixel camera and digital music player, it
was probably the best they could muster to fight off the iPhone.
They had models like the N95, but that was a chunky slab, announced in 2006 and really
aimed at a different market.
Take this excerpt from Stack Exchange;
"I was involved in discussions and part of the decision loop.
Then a very big and leading mobile phone maker, Nokia, asked for it.
They even designed most part with a leading connector maker (Molex).
USB-IF eventually bit the bullet and accepted.
It was Nokia who demanded it and the primary reason was size, they were desperately trying
to save space and had plans around OTG"
It seemed that Nokia may have been at the forefront of pushing to reduce the connector
size, giving them more space both inside the phone, and outside, at a time when freedom
to innovate was crucial.
And so, Micro-USB would become the new standard, and with it a new On the Go Standard.
With this we get 3 additional ID pin states, offering the ability for devices to be connected
to both a charger and another device simultaneously.
Allowing Nokia and, other manufacturers to expand on their OTG plans.
Given the standards for Mini-USB were already defined, it was impossible to implement these
in the existing design and be backwards compatible.
Therefore we have our new connectors, the Micro B and of course, the Micro A, for following
the same OTG premise as the mini connectors.
And although we had to adapt to change, it was easy enough.
New phones, and devices - apart from Apple of course - would move to micro ports, and
we suddenly had a different set of wires to chuck in our box.
But this was going to be it going forward.
In fact, in 2009, the EU's industry commissioner , Guenther Verheugen, called for phone chargers
to be standardised, to tbe Micro-USB format.
And, in June 2009, ten manufacturers, of course, including Nokia, but also Samsung and even
Apple signed a Memorandum of Understanding, committing to provide chargers compatible
within two years.
But it never fully happened with Apple simply offering an adaptor to accomodate the standard.
Of course, no one bought the adaptor and Apple continues to use their own bespoke connector.
But, it seems, it would never have worked out anyway, because, the USB 3.0 specification
had already been published in November 2008, and by 2010 the first complaint motherboards
were announced, and with them transmission rates of a whopping 5Gbit/s.
Of course, USB 2.0 Micro connections couldn't handle this bit rate, and so another 2 plugs
entered the fray.
Well, 3, if you count the blue Type A sockets.
These are backwards compatible with 2 and 1.1, but actually introduce a new set of pins,
specifically for USB 3 traffic.
That caused a new set of problems with people trying to use older USB cables for high speed
purposes, which still persists to this day.
For larger peripherals, we get a completely different connector.... by tagging some extra
pins on the top, those peripherals can now accept SuperSpeed connections.
We also get a SuperSpeed Micro-B, which adds an additional 5 pins, beside the standard
micro connector, again allowing for SuperSpeed connections, whilst retaining backwards compatibility.
I can still plug a Micro-B plug into this connector just fine.
But even at this point, you don't need to USB-IF to point out this is a sloppy fix.
It's not ideal to have these connector variants, and it would be much nicer if we had a single
connector type, that was On The Go compliant out of the box and could handle Super Speed
What we needed was USB-C.
Developed concurrently to the USB 3.1 specification, version 1.0 was published in August 2014.
Here's what the IF said;
"With the continued success of the USB interface, there exists a need to adapt USB technology
to serve newer computing platforms and devices as they trend toward smaller, thinner and
Many of these newer platforms and devices are reaching a point where existing USB receptacles
and plugs are inhibiting innovation, especially given the relatively large size and internal
volume constraints of the Standard-A and Standard-B versions of USB connectors.
Additionally as platform usage models have evolved, usability and robustness requirements
have advanced and the existing set of USB connectors were not originally designed for
some of the newer requirements"
So, rather than just offering a new small connector, the purpose of USB-C is to make
this single connector the standard for ALL devices, big or small. Host or slave.
Thereby removing the existing layers of confusion.
It can also be inserted upwards or downwards, easing those woes at the same time.
Arguably, it's what the original USB connector should have been from the go.
But as technology evolves and changes our lives, so much its appearance, specification
USB C carries all the learning from over 20 years of USB experience, and it's only by
going through those processes that we can sometimes end up, with the same simplicity
as how we began.
I guess at least we should be grateful that USB-C is intended to be with us for the forsee-able
future, through the subsequent revisions of USB 3.1, with generation 2 capable of 10GBit/s,
and the recent 3.2, which increases speeds without requiring any connector changes, thanks
to improved encoding and multi channel operation through existing wires.
We should even be good for USB 4.
But hey, we've heard that one before haven't we... and part of me thinks that actually,
it may be a bit too bulky for that.
Visions of Mini-USB spring to mind again.
For now, we can just sit back and wait for it to catch on everywhere.
Because, these previous standards sure seem to be lingering about.
Now where's that parallel cable I was looking for?
I've got some printing to do.
Thanks for watching and have a great evening.
[Synth music to see you out]