Fumbling with USB cables is probably an irritation that we’ve all experienced. Even when cables are marked with logos that indicate the top sides of the plugs, it can still be difficult to get the right orientation if you’re trying to plug a USB cable in at an awkward angle. Apple might be searching for ways to eradicate this common annoyance by creating a reversible USB cable. How awesome would that be? Now you won’t have to fumble in frustration and examine your USB plugs before connecting a cord to your hardware.
The patent that sparked the reversible USB buzz wasfiled by Apple back in January 2014. It describes a “dual orientation USB plug” that can be used with any standard USB port. In addition to reducing the hassle of rotating the USB cable to the proper orientation, Apple seeks to reduce hardware damage that can ensue when users attempt to force USB plugs due to misuse. The patent explicitly details the ideal contact frame structures and materials for a reversible USB plug. It seems that Apple intends for these plugs to work with any USB port – there is no mention of proprietary USB receptacle connectors. This opens up several user possibilities. In theory, you could use a reversible USB cable with standard ports on PCs, Macs, and third-party accessories.
Of course, Apple rumor sites have alreadyleaked images of alleged reversible USB cables. A source communicating with MacRumors claims that leaked images depict cables from the Foxconn factories in China, one of Apple’s largest manufacturing suppliers. The images depict reversible USB connectors on Lightning cables, which are used to charge current generation Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads. Of course, these images have lead to speculation that Apple might unveil the new cables at their upcoming September media event for the iPhone 6.
So will Apple actually be able to protect the idea of a reversible USB connector with patents? It’s difficult to say, since there are already existing patents and even products that tout these designs. Take Tripp Lite, for instance. This companyalready sells a Type A USB connector that can be plugged in with either orientation. Additionally, Ars Technica points out thestructural challenges of a reversible USB connector that relies on extremely thin components. While Apple’s patent indicates a goal of reducing hardware damage, Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica notes that “making these parts thinner is only going to increase the chances that they’ll bend or break.” These structural vulnerabilities could very well lead to greater hassles and expenses then the current fumble with USB cables.
Apple’s patent filing and leaked images are building the buzz surrounding the upcoming September 9 media event, which will be hosted at 10 a.m. PST at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, California. Reversible USB cables can certainly reduce the amount of hassle for Apple device users, especially if these components are used in their Lightning cable designs.