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My office has a Sony video camcorder which runs on hard disk drive (better to record a full day of interviews on) and pulling files out of the disk requires a cable. As it is with things in the office, the cable got lost somewhere between the last usability test and being loaned to marketing. So, when I needed to pull some files out, I had to hunt down the correct cable.

I took a look at the port on the video camcorder, which looks like this.

I didn’t recognize it, and knowing how Sony likes to use propriety ports and cards,  I assumed it was a special cable. I took a photo and went out to look for the cable. Well what a wild goose chase that turned out to be. I dropped by a Sony retail shop and the salesman said they didn’t stock this cable and suggested I head down to the main customer center in another part of town. That didn’t work for me as I couldn’t make it before the closing hours, so I went around a few shops in the store, but no-one seemed to have the suitable cable in stock. Boy was I frustrated, I thought it would be a simple task to buy a cable and it turned out to be a citywide search! Feeling defeated, I called the main customer center to check on the availability of the cable. When I conveyed my problem to the call agent, he duly informed me that I could just use any typical mini usb cable. What? But a typical usb cable port looks like this!

The next day in the office, I plugged a mini usb cable into the port and felt so silly when it fitted. But it wasn’t my fault for getting confused, was it? This is what the cables looks like.

and the shape is a perfect fit for the typical usb port but not for Sony’s! Electronic manufacturers had gotten it right by matching the shape of the cable to the shape of the port, which allows users to associate the 2 together and be able to intuitively find the right match. Just like an adults’ version of toy blocks that we played as kids.  Sony’s version must be a new variation (google search shows its also used in other electronics) and I wonder what prompted this change. Does it serves to improve the functionality in any way? or is it just cheaper to produce? It is rather sad that instead of a progression where electronics become more intuitive to use, we are seeing a regression instead. I certainly hope this new version doesn’t become more popular among electronics manufacturer.