One of those great electronics industry leaps forward has arrived, and may drive you to some new device choices over the next couple of years. It’s full of promise, but may also leave you saddled with a host of incompatible devices, chargers, connectors, and adapters. Sounds like the Lightning connector saga all over again, but in fact Apple is one of the early adopters this time. So what will it mean for your mobile gadgets, ereading devices, smartphones, and tablets? Will you want it?
The Universal Serial Bus Type-C Cable and Connector Specification, or USB Type-C for short, is a standard for a 24-pin double-sided connector similar to the micro-B USB connector, but designed to be future-proofed, and with hugely enhanced capabilities versus the old micro USB standard. For one thing, it’s not a mini or micro cutdown of full USB. The USB Type-C connector is the full connector, with all functions intact. Furthermore, it acts as the hardware end for other important new USB protocols, such as USB 3.1, which increases USB’s bandwidth to 10 Gbit/s, and USB Power Delivery, which allows Type-C connectors to carry up to 100 watts. USB Type-C can also carry HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, and in principle, Ethernet. It’s definitely One Plug To Rule Them All.
The first USB Type-C devices are already rolling out. Apple, for once, set the pace for universal forward-looking connectivity by implementing USB Type-C as the power adapter port for its 2015 Apple MacBook. To quote Apple, “the new USB‑C port puts just about everything you need in a port all in one place. This amazing port provides charging, speedy USB 3 data transfer, and video output in a small, reversible design that’s one-third the size of the current USB port.” The MacBook’s superb thin-and-light design owes something to USB Type-C, because it doesn’t have to incorporate old style USB connectors or even a Lightning port. VGA and HDMI video output over the USB Type-C cable for now requires separate adapters, but in time, displays will also have USB Type-C sockets.
Other USB Type-C devices coming to market include the OnePlus 2 phone, which makes great play of its market-leading tech and design in this and other areas, and Google’s Chromebook Pixel 2015. To show the way things are likely to go, OnePlus is already offering its own USB Type-C adapter for just $9.99, to connect your legacy full-size USB devices (see picture above). However, Samsung, the world’s Number One smartphone manufacturer, appears to be sticking to micro USB at least for now, with its next-gen flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Samsung’s backward-looking design choice indicates how things are likely to go for the next couple of years, with the micro USB and USB Type-C standards overlapping. For one thing, USB Type-C doesn’t automatically mean USB 3.1 or USB Power Delivery – it simply provides the socket for those devices that implement those standards. It’ll be interesting to see what the next big milestones in USB Type-C adoption are. Will the next iPhone have one? (Hard to imagine, with all the bucks now invested in Lightning, but who knows?) Will Amazon put USB Type-C into the next version of its $50 Fire tablet? With full HDMI output, surely Amazon would love to use USB Type-C to deliver its video offerings.
As for you, will you want it? Of course you will. Will you love streaming HDMI-quality video from your smartphone or tablet’s USB port? Of course you will. Will you love being able to power your smartphone and your laptop/desktop/convertible from the same small power adapter? Of course you will. Will you grumble at the slew of incompatible older devices and chargers that need micro USB-to-USB Type-C or USB Type-C-to-big-old-USB adapters? Of course you will …