Thunderbolt, eSATA, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, FireWire 400, FireWire 800, and a seemingly endless collection of other kinds of cables fill a drawer near my desk for reasons unknown. Each device I purchase seems to come with more cables than the one it replaced, and heaven forbid I consider buying an external hard drive. Why are there so many different types of data cables? Is there a reason behind this madness?
Part of the reason for this situation is the money involved with creating and supporting a popular standard. It’s no secret that there are big bucks in being the company that holds the patents to a popular technology, but this has caused wave after wave of conflicting standards to enter the tech world.
FireWire and USB were two very similar technologies with backing from two different camps. One side boasted the increased speed of FireWire 800 over USB 2.0, while the other promoted backwards compatibility and a wider range of possible applications. The same debate is going on today between Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, and, to some degree, eSATA. The technology behind these i/o standards is very similar, but the companies backing these standards have the resources required to push their respective standards to market.
Another reason for there being so many data cables on the market is simply the speed at which various breakthroughs are made in technology. Take for example HDMI. When HDMI first came out, the connector was standardized and made in a way that prevented incompatible cables from connecting to the port. Over time, more and more mobile devices became capable if sending out audio and video that could utilize the higher definition technology, but the device itself was generally too small to accommodate such a large port. For this reason, cables and adapters were developed to fit a smaller (yet identically wired) port.
Unfortunately for many of us confused users, this mess involving constantly evolving and competing standards, cable adapters and proprietary connections will go on well into the foreseeable future. Until a standard is perfected that far surpasses the data transfer needs foreseen for years to come, there will always be a company working to develop the next big thing.