Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

On March 25, 2021, Mr. Dennis Schubert published a blog post titled USB-C hubs and my slow descent into madness. The poor man just wanted a USB-C hub for his Mac, but he ended up purchasing USB-C hubs ostensibly from three separate and distinct manufacturers that were either ineffective or outright defective. I say “ostensibly from three separate and distinct manufacturers” because when Mr. Schubert took the time to take the USB-C hubs apart he discovered that, notwithstanding the brand names on the outside, each used cheap boards from unknown Chinese companies that were available on AliExpress for many times less than what he paid for them. I encourage you to read the entertaining (and depressing) article for yourself – it came to my attention when it made waves on Hacker News. Below, I will focus on only one passage from the article because it ties in neatly with a post that I wrote a few months ago about long-lasting tech. The passage reads as follows:

I’m slightly concerned about the fact that some of the products use electrolytic capacitors. Those hubs get pretty warm, even if you’re not routing your laptop’s power through the hub, and electrolytic capacitors don’t like warm environments, and that’ll significantly shorten their life. However, that’s probably negligible, since lots of resistors are also designed just barely around their load ratings, all the chips run amazingly hot, … it just feels like another product family intended to be used barely one year until it dies, just to end up in the landfill.

Heavily modified Pexels image of a USB-C hub.
Because I do not own a USB-C hub, I had to find an image for the article. This is a heavily modified version of a Public Domain USB-C hub photo from Pexels. I made the image black and white and added blur for no reason in particular. You can see the much better full-resolution photo, which was taken by Ms. Karolina Grabowska, on Pexels.

Mr. Schubert highlighted many problems with the current state of USB-C hubs. The standout issue in the article is the fact that “reputable” companies are doing nothing more than slapping their names and logos on cheap products from China and marking them up exorbitantly for Western consumers. That ties in with the fact that these products are, at best, not very good. But the above product touches on a more significant point – the products are effectively defective by design.

In another recent article, I examined how DRM on digital purchases has the tendency to turn buyers into renters. What does companies selling marked up electronics that are designed to fail within one year turn the people who are buying them into? I suppose we can say “renters” — but that may be too polite in this case. Foreign companies sell marked up junk from China because they can, but in so doing they are effectively, and perhaps deliberately, trying to create a new paradigm for consumer expectations. A product that someone once may have expected to be useful for three-to-five years, if not longer, is now a three-month-to-one-year rental. The lack of good USB-C hubs has been noted generally, but I suspect that companies will take advantage of USB-C hub-esque expectations on electronics that previously had better reputations for durability and performance.

Another step toward creating a society of renters in all respects.