Reversible USB

The iPhone 6’s packaging might not only include a redesigned smartphone, but a redesigned USB to Lightning cable. While it’s unlikely that Apple will yet-again change the Lightning port introduced with the 2012 iPhone 5 anytime in the near future, a redesigned version of the USB plug could be ready for this fall. Sketchy photos of a reversible USB cable first surfaced on the web last week, and Sonny Dickson yesterday shared another shot of the cables via Twitter.

Like the Lightning connector, the benefit of a reversible USB connector is that it can be inserted into a USB port in either direction. This makes it easier to insert the connector in darkly lit or hard to reach places (like behind a desk). Due to uncertain sourcing, the first batch of photos did not seem completely believable, but digging a little deeper into the situation reveals that Apple readying a reversible USB iPhone cable is a real possibility…

Screenshot 2014-08-17 19.05.10

Late last week, the official USB Promotor Group announced the completion for the design of a new “Type C” USB 3.0 cable. One of the most notable new features? Being reversible. The problem is that this cable would not fit in current USB ports on Apple computers, chargers, and other accessories. Just two years out from the transition from the 30-pin connector to Lightning, it seems unlikely that Apple would want to transition the new USB standard across all of its cables, accessories, and Mac computers. With that in mind, it is easy to dismiss rumors of Apple moving to a reversible USB design.


However, an Apple patent filed in early 2013 (PDF) and uncovered earlier this summer reveals Apple’s own in-house work on a reversible USB cable (pictured above). Here’s Apple’s description of the invention:

Embodiments can provide reversible or dual orientation USB plug connectors for mating with standard USB receptacle connectors, e.g., a standard Type A USB receptacle connector. Accordingly, the present invention may be compatible with any current or future electronic device that includes a standard USB receptacle connector. USB plug connectors according to the present invention can have a 180 degree symmetrical, double orientation design, which enables the plug connector to be inserted into a corresponding receptacle connector in either of two intuitive orientations

As you can see in the description, Apple’s reversible USB design is compatible with the standard Type A port (on any “current or future” device), which Apple has utilized for several years:

Apple USB Support Document

Another piece of evidence pointing to this possibility is that backwards compatible reversible USB cables already exist. Company Tripp Lite has been selling them online for years.

Some more photos of the rumored reversible Apple USB cable have surfaced. Here’s a slideshow of the latest ones:

So while it appears extremely unlikely that Apple will soon move to the upcoming, reversible USB 3.0 Type-C standard, the previously leaked photos and Apple patent point to the strong possibility of Apple redesigning its iPhone USB connector this fall. If Apple does make that move, it also seems likely that Apple will begin shipping the updated cable with future devices like the next iPads, iPods, accessories, and, of course, the so-far mythical iBand.

If Apple does indeed launch a reversible USB cable, we’ll likely first hear about it at the September 9th iPhone 6 event. Besides the new design, the iPhone 6 will include a sharper display, new sensors, and an improved camera system.

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