Apple Could Flip USB Standard on Its Head with New Reversible Connector

apple reversible usb connector patent
Credit: USPTO

Apple is rumored to be introducing a brand new proprietary version of the traditional USB connector, in the name of user convenience. But as always, Apple has another monetary motive.

[UPDATE: This post has been updated to remove an erroneous statement that suggested the Apple 30-pin connector is reversible.]

One truly valuable thing about Apple's proprietary Lightning plug/port for newer iPhones, iPads and iPods is that you never have to check to make sure you're plugging it in the right way; it fits whether it's right side up or upside down.

Late last month, shortly after a related Apple patent application was discovered, rumors started circulating about a new Apple charging cord with a "reversible USB connector." The cord described in the filing would still have a Lightning or other Apple connector on one side, but the USB side would have a new plug that could, like the Lightning plug, be plugged into a PC or other adaptor when inserted upside down or right side up.

Today's traditional USB plugs (officially called "USB Type A," by the USB Implementers Forum) only fit into USB ports in one orientation. If you try to plug them in upside down, they won't fit, and they can potentially damage USB ports if users try to force them.

That's one reason Apple provided in its patent application for the creation of its reversible USB connector. Another reason: To "reduce user frustration during the incorrect insertion of a USB plug connector into a corresponding USB receptacle connector of an electronic device."

On Saturday, Twitter user @SonnyDickson, who reportedly has a history of leaking electronics, posted images of what he claims is the new reversible USB cord, alongside a traditional USB Type A cord. (See above tweet.)

Like the Lightning plug, users would be able to plug in the new USB plugs without having to consider the correct orientation. Bye bye user frustration, hello convenience! Of course, the move isn't really about the user — or at least it's not all about the user. Apple never does anything without a business goal in mind.

That business goal in this case could be to eventually "force" users to purchase new Lightning-to-Reversible-USB cables by including the new USB ports in upcoming versions of its other devices, including Macs, according to Forbes contributor Gordon Kelly. Those new Macs would be incompatible with current USB Type A cords — and presumably incompatible with any other newer standards that could be released in the near future, including the expected USB Type C plug. Apple would also charge third-party accessory makers licensing fees to use its patented USB reversible connector.

The move would, of course, fly in the face of the standards bodies and the very idea of standards. But that's par for the course for Apple. The company has a long history of using its own proprietary ports in the name of user experience and convenience and then charging exorbitant fees for adaptors

The new connector would also help Apple effectively "own" both ends of the charging cord, so if an iPhone/iPad user wanted to employ a micro USB cable from another manufacturer, or a future USB Type C cord, they'd have to purchase two adaptors — one for each end of the cord.

Website uswitch.com claims to have "exclusive images" of the new cords in their retail packaging, but the boxes look exactly the same as the current Lightning-to-USB packages, and there's no reference to the reversible port, so I'm skeptical.

Finally, Apple is also likely to come up with a much more catchy name for the connector than the boring ol' "reversible USB." The Apple patent application is legit, and the move sure seems Apple-esque, so you can probably expect to see this new connector in the not too distant future, perhaps as early as next month, when Apple is expected to unveil its new iPhones.

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