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Details that count: Apple's obsession with reversible cable connectors

Marco Tabini | Aug. 25, 2014
It's been nearly impossible over the last few weeks to avoid hearing that Apple is reportedly working on a Lightning cable with a reversible USB connector--that is, a connector that will fit into a USB port no matter which direction you plug it in.

The vicious circle starts: if you fail at something, you think it is your fault. Therefore you think you can't do that task. As a result, next time you have to do the task, you believe you can't so you don't even try.

Once you learn about this problem, you start seeing it everywhere in your daily life, and nowhere more so than in the world of computers, where things break, freeze, and otherwise stop working with an alarming ease. It's not hard to see how that can often scare users into inaction.

That's why the Home button on iOS devices is so important. Where techies see a strange fixation with not adding more buttons, an inexperienced user sees a get-out-of-jail-free card that will get them back to a known "good state," no matter how badly they screw up. By eliminating the fear factor associated with breaking things and having to ask for help, this simple convention frees users to experiment and get more out of their computers.

At Apple, the fight against learned helplessness pervades even the most minute aspects of design. A reversible connector is easier to use than one that must be inserted into its receptacle in a specific way — a concept that is clearly lost on the folks who design USB ports. While it's a relatively obscure detail, it's one that makes Apple's mobile devices a little friendlier, a little less scary, and a little better for everyone: all things the company strives for on a daily basis. 

 

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