You know how it is. You need to get some files off your thumb drive so you go to plug it into your PC and … nope … it ain’t going in. So you flip it around and fiddle and fumble to find the port again and … nope … it still ain’t going in. So you flip it around again and … what the … somehow it still refuses to slot in as it surely should. How can that be?
The final stage of the process usually involves a thorough visual inspection of the USB drive before craning your neck to a potentially vertebrae-shattering position in a bid to ensure the perfectly aligned insertion of stick into slot. Or getting up out of your seat to approach the problem from another angle entirely, and with all the steady-handedness of a crack surgeon carrying out a life-saving operation.
If the delicate USB-docking procedure fails at this stage, there’s a good chance the drive will experience several seconds of weightlessness as it takes an unscheduled trip to the other side of the room.
It’s taken a while, but the man that led the Intel team that created the USB (Universal Serial Bus) all those years ago, Ajay Bhatt, has finally acknowledged that the design has caused plenty of frustration over the years.
Stating what hundreds of millions of people around the world have known for years, Bhatt told NPR recently: “The biggest annoyance is reversibility.”
While the 50-50 design of the USB can sometimes feel more like 90-10 when we go to use it, Bhatt insists there was a good reason for designing it in the way that he did: Cost.
You see, if his team had created a USB that could be inserted both ways — thereby sparing us all a lifetime of teeth-gnashing, head-banging, expletive-shouting madness — then it would have required double the wires and circuits, thereby doubling the cost. Hmm, perhaps you’re nodding your head now and saying quietly under your breath: “Goddammit, triple the cost woulda been worth it.”
“In hindsight, based on all the experiences that we all had, of course it was not as easy as it should be,” Bhatt said of his USB design, which was first adopted by Apple’s iMac in 1998 before being taken up by tech manufacturers globally.
The newer USB-C design is reversible, but it’s yet to be widely adopted, so the frustrations experienced with the regular USB port are set to continue for some time to come.
But take note — Bhatt said his team also considered a round design. Mercifully, it ditched the idea as it would have been even more difficult to plug in. So at least we have something to thank Bhatt and his team for.