USB kills off SuperSpeed branding as it tries to simplify its ubiquitous connector
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USB kills off SuperSpeed branding as it tries to simplify its ubiquitous connector

Jun 10, 2023

By Jon Porter, a reporter with five years of experience covering consumer tech releases, EU tech policy, online platforms, and mechanical keyboards.

The SuperSpeed USB branding is no more thanks to a new set of guidelines currently being rolled out by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the body that manages and maintains the USB standard.

It's part of a rebranding initiative that the organization kicked off last year with the introduction of a new series of packaging, port, and cable logos. But with its latest set of branding and logo guidelines it's going even further, simplifying its legacy branding and signaling the end of the decade-old SuperSpeed branding. If the name doesn't ring any bells, then that's probably because you (like most other people) simply referred to it by its USB 3 version number. Alongside it, the USB-IF is also ditching USB4 as a consumer-facing brand name.

The changes came into effect this quarter, and could start appearing on products and packaging as early as by the end of the year, according to the USB-IF's president and chief operating officer Jeff Ravencraft. But any products that were certified prior to the shift will still be able to use the old brand names.

In a Zoom call, Ravencraft explains that the new branding is designed to prioritize what the standards can actually do, rather than the USB version they’re based on. "As we started to update our branding we did a lot of focus group studies with many different types of consumers," he tells The Verge, "and none of those people understood the messaging and the branding, and they don't understand revision control or spec names."

"What consumers want to know — and what we learned — is they want to know two things: What's the highest data performance level the product can achieve? And what's the highest power level I can get or drive from this product," he says. "That's all they want to know."

So, instead of referring to USB devices by a version number or vague name like "SuperSpeed," the USB-IF wants companies to use branding that reflects these all-important specs. "SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps" and "SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps" are now just "USB 5Gbps" and "USB 10Gbps" respectively, while "USB4 40Gbps" and "USB4 20Gbps" are becoming "USB 40Gbps" and "USB 20Gbps."

Branding for certified USB Type-C cables is also being updated. Rather than simply listing their data transfer speeds, cables will also (for the most part) have to list the charging wattage they’re capable of carrying. So a cable can't just be branded as being a 40Gbps cable as with last year's guidelines, it’ll now also have to list a charging speed like 60W or 240W.

It's important to note that using these brandnames is far from mandatory. They apply to USB devices certified by the USB-IF, but these only cover a fraction of the total number of USB products out on the market. That's because unlike specifications like Thunderbolt 4, which manufacturers have to license directly from Intel, USB is an open standard that anyone is free to use. That's allowed it to become as ubiquitous as it is, but means the USB-IF is all-but-powerless to stop companies from building USB products that don't use the specification properly. And no one's going to stop them from branding a device as USB4 Version 2, or offer no branding at all.

The underlying USB version numbers aren't going anywhere. But while manufacturers and OEMs still have to wrap their heads around specs like USB4 Gen3x2 and USB4 Version 2, the USB-IF doesn't want customers to care what version number their devices or cables are using. Yes, USB4 Version 2.0 is a terrible name, but the idea is that most consumers should end up seeing it branded as USB 80Gbps.

This branding applies regardless of the specific USB port being used, whether it's old fashioned USB Type-A, microUSB, or USB Type-C. But naturally the higher performance logos will only be applicable to USB Type-C, which is the only connector to support transfer speeds over 10Gbps.

Putting the two most important specs front-and-center

A key exception to all these rules is USB Hi-Speed, more commonly known by its version number USB 2.0, which maxes out at a now achingly slow 480Mbps. But the USB-IF's reasoning is that if it were to be completely consistent, and brand USB 2.0 ports as "USB 480Mbps," then it’d risk confusing customers who might see the branding next to a "USB 5Gbps" device and wrongly assume it's faster because of the higher number. Original USB 1.0 branding is also unaffected by this year's changes.

As my former colleague Chaim Gartenberg wrote last year, even with new simplified branding the situation is still far from perfect. Ideally we wouldn't need half a dozen different logos to describe all the variations of a single connector. But Ravencraft argues that it wouldn't make sense to force every manufacturer to support the highest specs.

"A USB printer will never be USB4 Version 2," he says. "There's no need for it, and no one's going to put the cost of this higher end technology into a printer or a keyboard or a mouse." Instead, the "billions" of devices on the market that only need the transfer speeds of older standards like USB 2.0 (ahem, sorry, USB Hi-Speed) can continue to use them.

There’ll still be lots of different USB versions out there

The new branding guidelines also don't cover absolutely everything that a USB cable can do. There's no information on resolutions or refresh rates if you need a cable that's going to carry a DisplayPort video signal, nor is there anything to say how a cable might handle taking a PCIe signal. The logos are focused on the USB-IF's own standards like USB Power Delivery. That also means they don't offer the same guarantees if you need support for a competing fast-charging standard like Qualcomm's Quick Charge.

It's still an open question just how many USB devices will actually use this new branding. USB is unlikely to ever be a completely neat and tidy standard, where you can buy any old cable without looking at the fine print, plug it into whatever device you want, and enjoy its full potential. But, with any luck, the USB-IF's rebranding efforts will help make that all important fine print slightly less small and hard to understand.

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