Apple, USB 2.0 and Firewire


macrumors 6502
Original poster
Nov 22, 2002
Could someone explain to me how exactly it ended up that USB's initial champion and popularizer (Apple w/ the original iMac) ended up getting screwed sortof by USB in the long run? I mean, Firewire was basically created by Apple whereas USB is an Intel technology. Initially, the two complimented each other in that Firewire was for the big transfer rate stuff like external hds and av stuff, while USB was cheaper and more convenient for stuff like mice and keyboards. But then USB2.0 came out and basically took the bulk of Firewire's business away.

Can anyone explain how this happened? Is it Apple's fault ie did they screw something up? Or did Intel use dirty tricks to get hardware manufacturers to go with USB2.0 when Firewire was already available and just as good, or what?

I'm very interested in knowing what the history between these two is.


macrumors 603
Dec 31, 2001
Mpls, MN
Firewire patents are owned by Apple. They make money when others use it. Others don't want to pay Apple.

That said, it is on most computers these days where an external drive will be used since it is still faster than USB2 for sustained throughput. USB was intended for the slow stuff like keyboards and is more universally needed, so it has been more popular. And FW 800 is popular for server use, USB doesn't match that.


macrumors 604
Apr 11, 2005
Anyone doing serious video or graphics or server or backup use will use FW800 for speed. Also remember that USB is geared more to I/O devices like mice, keyboards, card readers, cameras, printers, etc. Firewire is geared more towards things like drives, i.e. ipod, hard drives, etc.


macrumors 6502
Original poster
Nov 22, 2002
it sounds like Apple screwed up during some period by charging too much. As I understand Firewire has more than a simply throughput advantage in that it doesnt use CPU much whereas USB is highly dependent on/consumptive of computer resources.

The two plugs and cables are damn close to the same size and Firewire is plain better than USB2.0 so it seems like a damn shame that everyone uses USB to connect all their consumer devices rather than Firewire. Like my thumb drive and camera -- I wish FW instead of USB2.0; there is no reason to me that USB2.0 had to be created when FW is better only not common enough for thumbdrives to be designed for it.

Anyone else with any more insight into how USB2.0 managed to become the standard when FW was better all along and had been around for years? I know Apple didnt go to the trouble and expense of creating Firewire just so people could hook up external harddrives and av equipment a little more conveniently than before -- they had to have been aiming for the kind of predominance of USB2.0 -- otherwise it couldnt have made financial sense


Aug 23, 2005
The better specced of two rival formats is never a guarantee of success.

I guess it was just a simple case that usb2 was cheaper - that's it, pure and simple.

Even apple have subcumbed, look at the ipod.


Moderator emeritus
Jun 25, 2002
Gone but not forgotten.
It's a matter of money. If Apple had no royalty charges on using FireWire, it might be everywhere and USB 2.0 might be minimised. They did reduce the royalty but the bad PR had already made news.

In the beginning of digital camcorders, FireWire in the 4-pin variety was almost essential and you'd struggle to transfer your video footage from a digital camcorder that didn't have a FW connection. USB 2.0 came along and didn't require much more in respect to hardware or software costs, so various companies dropped FW to reduce prices.

On computers of the time, most people didn't consider FW at all or editing their videos on a computer. HP considered the cost to be minimal and Sony had to match their digital camcorders. Most every other company chose to ignore FW and offered USB 2.0, when it became available as it was a cheap upgrade.

It's a bit sad that Apple chose money over ubiquity. However, if you work with professional equipment, you'll find FW there, and even some television sets are equipped.


macrumors 6502
Original poster
Nov 22, 2002
Yeah it is sad. The reason I'm calling it a goof on Apple's part is that ubiquity is money -- if they'd charged probably just a little less to get a little more ubiquity in beginning, then the tide would have gone with FW and they would have made huge money.
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