Apple's interest in reversible USB plugs detailed in new patent application

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited August 2014
While a reversible "Type-A" USB connector may not meet the specifications of a certified USB cable, Apple has nevertheless shown interest in building one, a newly published patent application reveals.




The concept is detailed in a filing made with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that was published on Thursday and discovered by AppleInsider. Entitled "Reversible USB Connector with Compliant Member to Spread Stress and Increase Contact Normal Force," it describes a standard-size USB "Type-A" male plug that could be inserted in either direction.

The filing is noteworthy because it comes as a number of new Lightning cables have appeared online, showing a reversible USB connector. This has sparked hopes that Apple might be planning to release such an accessory.

However, such cables would not be complaint with the official USB specifications --?a move that might give Apple pause. And considering that reversible, non-sanctioned USB plugs have been around for years, it's possible that the leaked Lightning cables appearing online were made by third-party manufacturers and not Apple.

Still, Apple has clearly shown internal interest in simplifying USB cables, as evidenced by the new patent application. The filing describes a USB Type-A plug that is "180-degree symmetrical" with a "double orientation design."




Apple notes that existing USB plug connectors include an insertion opening with features that prevent it from being plugged into a port the wrong way. But it states that it can be difficult for users to determine the correct orientation, even with appropriate markings indicating which side should be facing upward.

"Users may incorrectly insert a plug connector into a corresponding receptacle connector, which may potentially result in damage to the connectors and/or user frustration," the filing states.

Apple says its own design could "reduce the potential for USB connector damage and user frustration" by allowing a cable to be plugged into a socket in either of two orientations. The concept also states that Apple could include structural support that would distribute stress, ensuring durability of the cable.

Reversibility was one of the key design decisions behind Apple's proprietary Lightning connection, which debuted in 2012 on the iPhone 5. It replaced the company's 30-pin connection design, which, like sanctioned USB Type-A, could only be plugged into a socket in one direction.


Photo via Sonny Dickson.


The USB Compliance Committee does have a new forthcoming connector -- USB Type-C -- that will be reversible. But the new, smaller connector features an entirely new form factor, and is not the standard Type-A connector shown in Apple's patent application or the recent cable leaks.

The specifications for USB Type-C do not specify which type of plug must be on each end of a cable. That means that authorized Type-C to Type-C cables, or even Type-C to Lightning connectors, could become a reality, setting the stage for the USB Type-A plug to begin to fade away.

Apple's reversible Type-A USB connector patent, made public on Thursday, was first filed with the USPTO in February of this year. The proposed invention is credited to Warren Z. Jones, Eric T. Soohoo, Albert J. Golko, and Stephen Brian Lynch.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 41
    If Type-C takes off, the lifespan for a reversible A might be short, a few years?
  • Reply 2 of 41
    Come to think of it, the only times I've had confusion or issues plugging in USB A connectors have been using non-Apple cables on PCs. Cables do have a mark indicating "up" but on PCs, especially ones where USB ports don't face "up" because the PC is on its side, quite a lot of trial and error is required. Especially ports on the back. And I've owned PCs with front ports that were upside down. MacBooks have an obvious "face up" with respect to the orientation of the laptop (plug in cables logo side up).

    What's always annoyed me was the existence of Type B (for my printers), Mini-A (For PS3 controller and PSP), Mini-B, Micro-A, and Micro-B (for my Kindle and iPad keyboard). Consumers had to be pretty savvy to shop for cables, and the Micro A and B ends look very similar.
  • Reply 3 of 41
    arlorarlor Posts: 528member

    I once managed to plug a USB cable into an eSATA port. I do not recommend this.

  • Reply 4 of 41
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member
    I've mistakenly plugged the other (male?) end into my printer's Ethernet port more than once. Almost makes you wish than all sockets were on the front (and well illuminated).
  • Reply 5 of 41
    normmnormm Posts: 637member

    Figures 18 and 19 in the patent are interesting, because they show structures at the base of the "tongue" in the middle of the connector that let it deflect all the way to the top or bottom of the housing, as needed.  And they do this spreading the stress appropriately, so the connector can last a long time.  The only drawback that I see is that it's confusing to have some USB connectors that you need to carefully orient, and some that look pretty much the same that you don't.

  • Reply 6 of 41
    This is CRAZY-

    Apple just GOT the patent and these guys are already copying, manufacturing, and SELLING COPIES!!!!

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16812228792

    Is there no SHAME in how people copy Apple's intellectual property????
  • Reply 7 of 41

    I wish someone would publish a reference/standard rather than a patent. How about the good olde days of the RFC.

  • Reply 8 of 41
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Torrid Foster View Post



    This is CRAZY-



    Apple just GOT the patent and these guys are already copying, manufacturing, and SELLING COPIES!!!!



    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16812228792



    Is there no SHAME in how people copy Apple's intellectual property????



    I assume you are being sarcastic?  If not just know that Trip Lite had this item on the market in January, BEFORE the Apple patent.  Anything that Trip Lite did before the patent they are allowed to continue doing, those parts of Apples patent would be invalid.  If Trip Lite did not patent the item, anyone can make it with the features of Trip Lites original model. 

  • Reply 9 of 41
    beltsbear wrote: »

    I assume you are being sarcastic?  If not just know that Trip Lite had this item on the market in January, BEFORE the Apple patent.  Anything that Trip Lite did before the patent they are allowed to continue doing, those parts of Apples patent would be invalid.  If Trip Lite did not patent the item, anyone can make it with the features of Trip Lites original model. 

    That's not how patents work anymore. "First inventor to file" is what matters.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_to_file_and_first_to_invent
  • Reply 10 of 41
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post





    That's not how patents work anymore. "First inventor to file" is what matters.



    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_to_file_and_first_to_invent



    Sure it is.  First to file precedes work done in private, meaning if TrippLite worked on it but did not tell anyone before the Apple patent they would indeed lose to Apple.  Publishing work, in any format publicly, invalidates the patent.  Selling the cable publicly is an example of this.  If they had a pile of them in the warehouse but never showed or sold them, they would also lose.

     

    TrippLite does not get a patent if they did not file for one, but in this case the idea would be available for anyone to use. 

  • Reply 11 of 41
    stuffestuffe Posts: 392member
    Patents - it's not what it does (reversible USB connection), it's how it does it (hence the ridiculously obfuscated and complex language used to talk about everyday things).
  • Reply 12 of 41
    stuffestuffe Posts: 392member

    I don't know how you go about checking out a patent, but apparently 7,717,717 is already awarded to these guys: http://reversibleusb.com/about_us

  • Reply 13 of 41
    Originally Posted by Arlor View Post

    I once managed to plug a USB cable into an eSATA port. I do not recommend this.

     

    They make eSATA+USB ports. I know of several machines that have them. Seems handy in my opinion. At least… before Thunderbolt existed. Now they’re worthless.

  • Reply 14 of 41
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,670member

    A reversible USD sounds good, but a FATTER usb does not, and I cannot believe that Apple would ever go for that. If the form factor needs to change (obviously does), why not design something much smaller similar to the the lightning plug?

  • Reply 15 of 41
    imt1imt1 Posts: 87member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by stuffe View Post

     

    I don't know how you go about checking out a patent, but apparently 7,717,717 is already awarded to these guys: http://reversibleusb.com/about_us


    Ah No. did you look at their patent and connector? Its completely closed on all sides. Not the same form factor as Apples and doesn't provide the same stress relief. While They may have a patent for one type of Type A reversible USB male connector, Apple's is done a totally different way. 

  • Reply 16 of 41
    paxman wrote: »
    A reversible USD sounds good, but a FATTER usb does not, and I cannot believe that Apple would ever go for that. If the form factor needs to change (obviously does), why not design something much smaller similar to the the lightning plug?

    That's what Type C is supposed to be: smaller, the same on both ends, and reversible. It's supposed to replace all USB types before it, not that we won't have C-to-legacy adapters for several transitional years.
  • Reply 17 of 41
    stuffestuffe Posts: 392member
    imt1 wrote: »
    Ah No. did you look at their patent and connector? Its completely closed on all sides. Not the same form factor as Apples and doesn't provide the same stress relief. While They may have a patent for one type of Type A reversible USB male connector, Apple's is done a totally different way. 
    I think the diagram included is of the 'exploded' type, and still has a complete enclosure as per the photo. But I agree, as per my first post, it's not the fact that it's reversible that is patentable, it's how they implement it, and Apples abstract makes a lot of noise on that front to differentiate from this (and likely other) existing patents.
  • Reply 18 of 41

    OH, just what we need. Yet another USB plug style. I've already got at least 7 types. Can't we just let USB die?  Please!

  • Reply 19 of 41
    haggarhaggar Posts: 1,568member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by paxman View Post

     

    A reversible USD sounds good, but a FATTER usb does not, and I cannot believe that Apple would ever go for that. If the form factor needs to change (obviously does), why not design something much smaller similar to the the lightning plug?


    This is the connector that plugs into the ports currently found on computers, not your iPhone.  I have not seen any indication that Apple plans to replace all USB ports on their Macs with Lightning.

  • Reply 20 of 41
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,670member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

    That's what Type C is supposed to be: smaller, the same on both ends, and reversible. It's supposed to replace all USB types before it, not that we won't have C-to-legacy adapters for several transitional years.

    That sounds OK to me. I was just judging by the photo in which a fatter reversible plug is shown. It would make sense to have all data plugs standardized. Imagine a world were the lightning plug reigned supreme? The cost would obviously come right down and we'd never be on our hands and knees rummaging through the bottom drawer of our filing cabinets.

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