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I recently bought a used USB dock for upgrading firmware on a camera lens, only to notice the USB connector was custom.

Thinking about it, I also had a few devices like cheap cameras, calculators etc. in the 2000's and 2010's that used slightly altered ends to replace a "mini" sized USB connector.

Could this have been done to avoid royalties etc? None of the systems I am thinking of had special needs etc. Other than they were typically cheap, but a $1000 camera lens from that era does not fit the 'cheap' definition.

Below is the sigma USB cable I just got, it has a 45* cut across the USB face, and the pins are not in a consistent pitch spacing.

enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ If the device only supports USB low speed (like most keyboards and mice), then it must either have a permanently attached cable or a custom plug. It would be interesting to know if this applies to those cheap devices. \$\endgroup\$
    – Codo
    Feb 5, 2022 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you get a photo that shows the actual features you're talking about? \$\endgroup\$
    – The Photon
    Feb 5, 2022 at 15:58

2 Answers 2

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Vendor lock-in. If you had a Nokia phone and your charger cable broke, you would need to buy a new one from Nokia. If you had a Blackberry phone and your charger cable broke, you would need to buy a new one from Blackberry. At least that was the idea; it wasn't long before you could buy third-party cables made for specific devices, if those devices were popular enough.

The only reason this isn't still the case is that it's now illegal; there's an industry standard (that I believe has legal weight behind it in the EU) that requires everything (in certain classes of device, anyway) to use either micro-USB or USB type C. For some reason Apple has managed to secure an exception to this, so they still have their own connectors.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you give a link to or more detail about this EU standard / regulation? I'd like to learn more about it. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – TypeIA
    Feb 5, 2022 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TypeIA I feel like there was some level of regulation before this, but there was a recent ruling (random news article about it) that will mandate USB-C for all phones in the EU. Apparently Apple didn't manage to worm their way out of this one, so they're pretty upset. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hearth
    Feb 5, 2022 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TypeIA Ah, here's the wiki article about the previous standard, implemented in 2009. That one was voluntary, but most companies followed it (except apple). The new one looks like it'll be mandatory. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hearth
    Feb 5, 2022 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. That article describes a proposal though, not a ruling. (That's not immediately clear from the somewhat misleading headline.) I'll keep reading more about this, thanks again. \$\endgroup\$
    – TypeIA
    Feb 5, 2022 at 17:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TypeIA The last link I just posted says that the "proposal [...] was adopted by the College" on september 23rd; I'm not sure what exactly that means in the process of it becoming official, since I'm not an EU citizen and have little knowledge of the EU legislative process. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hearth
    Feb 5, 2022 at 17:38
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In the late 90s there wasn’t a workable USB device connector for phones. The full-size USB type B connector was far too bulky to be practical on the then-emergent class of mobile devices, let alone mice. It was really only useful for hubs.

Instead, mobile phone manufacturers did their own more-compact device end connectors, if they used USB at all. So that’s why connector chaos reigned in the early days, not necessarily an intentional vendor lock-in (although there was no doubt some of that going on too.)

The USB Organization took notice, and developed the Mini-B and Micro-B, both introduced with USB2.0 (c.2000). Mini-B saw some use (notably on the Motorola RAZR) with Micro-B ultimately becoming the standard for smartphones (Apple notwithstanding), even finally mandatory in the EU.

Perhaps more important than the small connector, USB 2.0 brought a speed boost to 480Mbps, making it more useful for transferring photos and music. This sweetened the deal for phone makers to adopt it. On-the-Go was in there too, but it proved troublesome to implement fully.

Meanwhile, Apple used the iPod dock connector in the first iPhones, a hideous choice from day one. The Lightning cable that replaced it from iPhone4 forward was a huge improvement. As a phone connector I still consider it superior to both Micro-B or USB-C based on it being simpler and more rugged, while offering high throughput.

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