What's wrong with USB standards

What's wrong with USB standards
4 min read

USB is a giant lie. The U in USB stands for universal, but with the confusing naming schemes, inconsistent port colors, and varying power delivery capacities, just saying something is USB feels about as universal as speaking Esperanto. And the infuriating thing is it doesn't have to be this way.

Take, for example, the issue with port colors we just mentioned. For a while things were relatively simple. The OG USB version 1.1 had white ports. What's wrong with USB standardsThe faster USB 2.0 used the color black. And once 3.0 rolled around, those ports usually got colored blue. That wasn't too hard to remember, especially since quite a bit of time passed between those three original revisions.

But it didn't take long for things to get more complicated. What's wrong with USB standardsWe got teal for 10 gigabit per second USB 3.1. And red for 20 gigabit USB 3.2. There are also colors that often indicate that the port either supports fast charging or stays on when the rest of the system is powered down for charging purposes. These are usually warmer colors like yellow, orange, or red. So that red port on your PC might not actually be 20 gigabit.

Then, you have other colors that indicate support for some form of proprietary, fast charging, such as purple for Huawei or green for Qualcomm. And you now have to re memorize what color stands for what USB version, since everything that isn't USB 2.0 or older has been rebranded as USB 3.2. 

The point here, is that there's actually no standardization on anything to do with USB port colors. It's all just conventions that different hardware manufacturers may or may not follow. I mean, some companies just do whatever the heck they want for the sake of aesthetics, which you'll know if you've ever bought anything from razor.

 But even if you've never thought much at all about the color of a USB connector, you can't exactly ignore its shape. What's wrong with USB standardsNowadays, we have the reversible USB-C connector, which has really taken off, but it's still a long way from displacing that old school, rectangular USB-A connector completely. And there's still plenty of confusion surrounding USB-C, with a popular misconception being that USB-C ports always support the same features or are always faster.

This definitely is not the case. As many USB-C ports only support the older five gigabit spec. And making matters worse for those trying to sort out what USB-C products to buy, there are quite a few cheaply made, non-compliant USB-C cables out there that actually can damage your gadgets.

And the really sad part is that even with all the things you have to watch out for with USB-C, it's arguably still better than the mishmash of other USB connector variants we've had in the past, including mini, micro, What's wrong with USB standardsand this funky looking thing that came out when they literally, just had to glom on more pins to support USB 3.0 speeds. And we haven't even gotten to the number one thing most of us use USB for these days, charging. For now we'll point out that there's a huge amount of variation in how quickly a port will charge up your phone or laptop. The USB power delivery standard does help somewhat, but there are still a few different flavors of it. And client devices can't all fully take advantage of it yet.

But there's some good news on the horizon. As confusing as USB has been, the new USB-4 standard could make things simpler in the near future. It has to use USB-C and support a high speed connection of either 20 or 40 gigabits per second. And yes, there's an or in there, but combined with an increasing number of devices that support USB power delivery, I hope that USB does become more universal soon.

But in the meantime, please be sure to read reviews or spec sheets of gadgets you're interested in, and know exactly what their capabilities are before you buy. Otherwise, I just wasted all this time ranting for nothing. 

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Jacob Enderson 4.1K
I'm a tech enthusiast and writer, passionate about everything from cutting-edge hardware to innovative software and the latest gadgets. Join me as I explore the...
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