It's estimated that there are 6 billion USB devices in the world.
You probably have dozens of tech kicking around with USB slots on the side. But have you ever wondered where it all began?
The humble USB connector has a fascinating past dating back almost thirty years. From its lowly beginnings in IBM, the history of USB technology grew until those three letters became recognized worldwide.
Let's go into our way-back machine and see how a computer engineer changed the world forever.
Floppy Drives and Parallel Ports
The year was 1992.
Computers consisted of grey towers and bulky monitors. Venturing to the back casing saw an assortment of thick wires and slots with pins dotted along the edge.
These were the Wild West days when PCs were created by geeks for geeks. Standards didn't really exist so nothing worked from computer to computer.
Microsoft's Windows operating system was relatively unknown and Apple's Macintosh was a small fish. Floppy disks ruled the roost and offered a huge amount of data - 1.44mb!
Ajay Bhatt, an architect in computer firm IBM, rubbed his chin. He surveyed the tangle of wires and shook his head.
It Has Got to Be Easier Than This
Around that time it became clear that computers were going mainstream.
Windows 95 would soon be released and PCs would sell in droves. Scenes of shoppers queuing to buy Microsoft's first graphical OS filled our TV screens. Suddenly everyone wanted a computer.
Unfortunately, the hardware didn't match the hype.
Adding a peripheral meant having to install software from a floppy disk. Most of the time it didn't work. Blue Screen Of Death, anyone?
Ajay Bhatt had a great idea. He went to his bosses to convince them that everything needed to change. One standard was required, one way to make things work.
IBM agreed and changed how they made computers.
Actually, that's not true. Bhatt's boss wasn't impressed. He even said:
I Don’t Think You’ll Succeed
Bhatt became frustrated. He knew things needed to evolve. So what did he do? He went to someone who would share his vision.
It takes guts to stand out from the crowd, but Bhatt followed his dream. Soon, a consortium of big brands like Compaq, IBM, Microsoft, and Nortel, decided to work together.
A new system of how peripherals would interact was the main goal. And it needed a name to be proud of. Something that would encourage the engineers and the public to adopt.
They named it Serial Box.
Yeah, that sucked. Thankfully it was changed to a more catchy title.
Plug and Play
After working around the clock for several years, Bhatt's team created a winner.
The new tech incorporated incredible speeds. The stunted copying of data from a floppy drive was shelved for this new locomotive.
Smaller dimensions were a big bonus too. This tiny stick was a fraction of the size of a disk or anything on the market. It could even fit in your pocket.
Most of all, this thing just worked.
Plug and Play was the motto and summed up what it did best. Printers using the device were recognized automatically. Joysticks (big at the time) finally brought joy - not woe - to the gamer.
Universal Serial Bus
The Serial Box was a Plug and Play Device but it needed its own brand name. It couldn't have techy numbers and it had to be short and snappy.
The USB port history relied on bus architecture so that word remained. Serial too because of its roots. It could work with everything so why not use universal?
Universal Serial Bus became USB and in 1998 launched to the world.
To show how easy it was, Intel connected 111 devices to one computer. The world record caught the world's eye. Soon lots of computer manufacturers added support for USB.
But it took one man to cement the new USB invention and push it into the 21st century.
Because Steve Jobs Said So
With the release of the iMac in 1998, Apple's CEO Steve Jobs made a gutsy decision.
No longer were serial ports or parallel ports or any old tech be in his new machine. Instead, USB was the only type of connection.
The iMac changed the world of home computing and soon Dell and others joined suit. The USB evolution was turning into a revolution.
The USB Revolution
USB standards have changed a lot over the years.
- 1996 - USB 1.0 released
- 2000 - USB 2.0 brings faster speeds. Mini USB released
- Late 2000 - Flash drives go mainstream. Eight times more storage than floppy
- 2005 - Wireless USB devices created
- 2007 - Micro USB makes things smaller
- 2008 - USB 3.0 superspeeds
- 2016 - USB-C finally offers reversible use
You can read more about the different types of devices in our USB history cable blog post.
The History of USB Is Now
When the world adopted USB, manufacturers dreamt big.
There are now USB vacuum cleaners, desktop fans, LED lights, and coffee warmers. Millions of devices for every conceivable use.
Our favorite has got to be the flying T-Rex helicopter. Straight out of a Jurassic World movie, it's insanely cute and cool.
Of course, the main use is to charge our mobile phones.
USB-C is now the adopted standard. It's reversible so you'll never have to fiddle when you fit it in. Even new iPhones support this latest version.
New technology has combined USB with wireless charging. Pop your phone on a cradle and it recharges automatically. Easy.
USB Is Here to Stay
The history of USB development has resulted in many of the gadgets we use today. But you've got to be careful which one you choose.
With multiple types like micro-USB, USB-C, and USB 3, if you buy the wrong one it won't fit.
Rest assured, we want to make sure you buy the right cable. If in doubt please contact us before ordering. We'll help make it simple.