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 is part of a rebranding initiative that the organization began last year with the introduction of a new range of logos for packaging, postage and cable. But with the latest set of branding and logo guidelines it goes even further, simplifying its legacy branding and marking the end of the decade-old SuperSpeed branding. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s probably because you (like most other people) simply referred to it by the USB 3 version number. In addition, the USB-IF also renounces USB4 as a consumer-oriented brand name.
The changes went into effect this quarter and could appear on products and packaging as early as year-end, according to USB-IF president and chief operating officer Jeff Ravencraft. But all products certified before the service can still use the old brand names.
In a Zoom talk, 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. “When we started updating our branding, we did a lot of focus group studies with many different types of consumers,” he says. The edge“and none of those people understood the message and the branding, and they don’t understand revision control or specification names.”
“What consumers want to know – and what we’ve learned – is that they want to know two things: what is the highest level of data performance the product can achieve? And what is the highest power I can get or drive with 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”, USB-IF wants companies to use branding that reflects these all-important specifications. “SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps” and “SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps” are now just “USB 5Gbps” and “USB 10Gbps”, respectively, while “USB4 40Gbps” and “USB4 20Gbps” become “USB 40Gbps” and “USB 20Gbps”.
Branding for certified USB Type-C cables is also being updated. Rather than simply listing their data transfer rates, cables will (for the most part) also need to list the payload they can carry. So a cable cannot simply be branded as a 40 Gbps cable as with last year’s guidelinesit will now also have to list a charging speed such as 60W or 240W.
It is important to note that the use of these brand names 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 on the market. That’s because, unlike specifications like Thunderbolt 4, which manufacturers must license directly from Intel, USB is an open standard that anyone can use freely. This has made it as ubiquitous as it is, but it means that the USB-IF is virtually powerless to stop companies from building USB products that don’t use the specification properly. And no one will stop them from branding a device as USB4 Version 2, or offering no branding at all.
The underlying USB version numbers aren’t going anywhere. But while manufacturers and OEMs still have to deal with specifications such as USB4 Gen3x2 and USB4 version 2, USB-IF doesn’t want customers to worry about the version number of their devices or cables. Yes, USB4 version 2.0 is a terrible name, but the idea is that most consumers should eventually think of it as USB 80 Gbps.
This branding applies regardless of the specific USB port being used, be it legacy USB Type-A, microUSB or USB Type-C. But of course, the higher performance logos only apply to USB Type-C, the only connector that supports transfer rates over 10 Gbps.
Putting the two most important specifications at the center
An important exception to all of these rules is USB Hi-Speed, better known by its version number USB 2.0, which peaks at a now excruciatingly slow 480Mbps. But USB-IF’s rationale is that if it were completely consistent and labeled USB 2.0 ports as “USB 480Mbps”, there would be a risk that customers would be confused to see the branding next to a “USB 5Gbps” device. would see and mistakenly assume it is faster because of the higher number. The 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 specifications.
“A USB printer will never be USB4 Version 2,” he says. “There’s no need and no one is going to put the cost of this advanced technology into a printer, a keyboard or a mouse.” Instead, the “billions” of devices on the market that only require the transfer speeds of older standards like USB 2.0 (ahem, sorry, USB Hi-Speed) can continue to use them.
There will still be many different USB versions
The new brand guidelines also don’t cover everything 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 about how a cable can pick up a PCIe signal. The logos focus on the USB-IF’s proprietary standards, such as 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 how many USB devices will actually use this new branding. It’s unlikely that USB will ever be a completely neat and tidy standard where you can buy any old cable without looking at the fine print, plug it into any device and enjoy its full potential. But with any luck, the USB-IF’s rebranding efforts will help make all the important fine print a little less small and hard to understand.