These days, pretty much everyone is familiar with USB – it’s one of the most popular and efficient ways to connect devices to one another (along with Bluetooth).

However, the technology has become quite complicated over the years. We used to have a single type of USB connection… but now we have more than 10 different versions, thanks to new inventions like Micro USB and USB-C (the latest version).

If you’ve ever asked to borrow a charger, only to be disappointed by a USB cable that doesn’t fit your phone, then you’ve probably wondered why they can’t all be the same. Wouldn’t life be much simpler that way?!

We had the same curiosity – so we did some research. Here’s what we found!

What is USB?

Image source:

First off, USB stands for “Universal Serial Bus”. It’s been the standard for short-distance digital data communications since 1996, when it was co-invented by Intel and the USB-IF (the organization that now manages the technology).

USB is used in a broad variety of applications, but the most common are charging devices and transferring data between devices.

USB works in much the same way the internet does, but via a cable. It uses electrical signals to transfer information (aka data) or energy (in the case of charging a device).

There are currently three types of USB ports:

  • USB Type-A: This is the original USB design. It has a flat and rectangular shape and two types of ports – a “male port” and a “female port”. These are most commonly used in computers and other larger devices.
  • USB Type-B: This is what you’ll find on the other end of a standard USB cable. It’s smaller and meant to plug into peripheral devices like phones and external hard drives.
  • USB Type-C: This is the latest design, and it’s what new devices are equipped with. They’re very small (measuring at 8.4mm by 2.6mm) and fast, making them perfect for all types of devices.

Within these, there are also “mini” versions – and “high speed” versions. That’s a lot of ways to connect!

With USB Type-C, we may be very close to a “final” USB format. We can surely get smaller and faster – but for now, it’s doing the trick quite well. You may soon be able to throw out all those other connections in favor of USB Type-C!

In the meantime, you can always use a USB adapter, which simply allows different types of USB devices to connect to each other. Because they all use the same “USB language”, things will generally go smoothly – although you may not get optimal speeds when using an adapter.

Image source: Computer Cable Store

So, if you’re like us, you’re probably wondering: how did we get here in the first place?

Why do we have so many types of USB?

The answer here is simple: we keep improving the technology.

The first type of USB was USB 1.0, and it was relatively slow. It could transfer data at two speeds: a “low speed” of 1.5 Mb/s and a “full speed” of 12 Mb/s. The lower speed was added to support low-cost peripherals that couldn’t safely handle the faster speeds (yet), while the higher speed was reserved for devices like printers and computers.

USB 1.0 was useful, but it wasn’t until the release of USB 1.1 in 1997 that the technology became widespread. Apple’s iMac was the first mainstream device to include USB, and the popularity of the iMac was actually a big reason why USB became popular.

Image source: Kensington

A few years later, in 2000, the much-faster USB 2.0 was released. By then, USB was being used in almost every PC – and they needed something faster than the relatively slow speeds of USB 1.1. Version 2.0 was capable of 40 Mb/s, a significant boost in speed.

Since then, we’ve seen 3 more updates: USB 3.0, USB 3.1, and USB Type-C – the version most commonly used today. That’s 6 versions in total… and guess what? USB4 is coming soon! It will boast insanely fast 40 Gb/s speeds – and thankfully, it will use the Type-C format, so we won’t have to update our devices. (Phew!)

Confused by USB? No worries – there’s an easy solution!

So, it’s great news that USB keeps improving, and it’s exciting that we may one day be past the “ah, nope, wrong cable – but thanks anyway!” game (that we always seem to lose).

We can’t wait for the USB Type-C format to finally take over. But in the meantime, we’re still stuck with tons of different USB ports on our favorite devices.

So, what do you do? One trick is to use an adapter. But of course, adapters get lost easily, and they don’t give you the best possible speeds.

Image source: ChargeHubGO+

Another (better) option is to use a “multi-USB charging device” like ChargeHubGO+. This smart solution allows you to get optimal charging speeds on ALL your devices. Until the folks behind USB finally reach a conclusion, this seems like the best bet to keeping your various devices charged and happy no matter where you are.

So there you have it – now you know a bit about USB, plus the valid (yet still admittedly annoying) reason why there are so many versions out there!

4 comments on “Innovations Explained: What is USB?

  1. Stan Hooper on

    Charging devices? My computers, which all seem to have different USB connecting ports from each other, do a lot more than charge devices. I connect to a host of other devices that require some kind of USB: for cameras, tethers, disc drives (DVD, CD, etc.), non-Bluetooth printers, scanners, and much more. How are chargers going to handle that? Not everything is about smart phone technology!!

  2. Gaela Allen on

    Thank you for this summation. I ordered the wrong replacement charger cord recently and added researching USB to my “to do” list. Can now mark that as done thanks to you!


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