New USB plug to be smaller, reversible (at last)

USB users unite: If you can’t tell which way is up, you’re not alone.

While the USB port has taken over technology, connecting everything from printers and keyboards to smartphones and tablets, it’s not perfect. The ubiquitous cables come in a variety of shapes and sizes that don’t always work with each other, and too often users find themselves struggling to plug in in an upside-down cable.

That could all be addressed by the Type-C connector, announced Tuesday by the USB 3.0 Promoter Group, a trade association that controls the USB specification. The new spec will feature an entirely new design, a smaller size, and most important, users will no longer need to be concerned with plug orientation -- no more fumbling behind that PC, in other words.

The new cables are due out some time after the spec is finalized in the middle of 2014, but what they will look like still remains to be determined.

"Unfortunately, we are not yet ready to share illustrations of the proposed new connector," Saunders told CNET.

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To be clear, the next-generation cables won’t mate with any existing USB plugs. But in theory, they’ll all work with each other: Buy a new tablet and the cable it comes with will work just as well with your smartphone as it does with your printer.

The new USB Type-C connector, built initially on existing USB 3.1 and USB 2.0 technologies, is being developed to help enable thinner and sleeker product designs, enhance usability and provide a growth path for performance enhancements for future versions of USB, the group said.

"This new industry standards-based thin connector, delivering data, power and video, is the only connector one will need across all devices," Alex Peleg, vice president of Intel's Platform Engineering Group, said.