USB-C is finally beginning to pick up traction, with most smartphone manufacturers now adding the new digital connection. After all, it’s not just as a better way to charge a device, but it’s also a means of phasing out the headphone jack on handsets. Here’s a closer look at USB-Type C.
If you have an electronic device that plugs into something, the chances are it’ll make use of USB. From desktop computers to smartphones, USB memory sticks to laptops, USB is the standard when it comes to connectivity.
The last major update to the ever-evolving USB standard came in 2013 with USB 3.1, and that was accompanied by the introduction of the new USB-C connector. If anything, it could become the default connection standard for even more devices.
Apple helped kick off the trend with the 12-inch MacBook that used a single USB-C socket to not just connect to all its peripherals, but also to provide power. The rumoured upcoming MacBook Air 2018 is likely to do the same, relying heavily on the USB-C socket in order to keep its design as slim as possible.
Smartphones have since widely embraced the USB-C into their design, including all the latest Samsung Galaxy, OnePlus and Google Pixel handsets.
USB-C is not a new standard
The first thing to realise about USB-C is that it’s not a new USB standard in the same way as USB 1.1, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 or the very latest USB 3.1 are. Those upgrades focus on defining what the connection can do in terms of speed and feature improvements, whereas USB-C is all about the physical connection, like with microUSB and miniUSB.
The crucial difference here, though, is that unlike micro and miniUSB, USB-C is aimed at being a replacement for both ends of the cable. More on this later.
Thunderbolt 3 will use the USB Type-C connector
USB Type-C received another big boost in the form of Thunderbolt 3. In June 2015, Intel revealed that its latest version of the port would piggyback on the new USB Type-C connector, giving it all the benefits and a new reversible look. It’s not all smooth sailing though – as Thunderbolt requires circuitry in the cable itself, it won’t be fully interoperable with Type-C.
Thunderbolt is a lot faster – well, four times – than the USB 3.1 standard which Type-C is built upon, which will obviously give plenty of benefit to those who need to transfer lots of big files very quickly.
To better understand what we mean about Type C being a replacement for both ends of the cable, you first need to understand the differences between the existing versions of USB and the various Type-A and Type-B connections.
USB versions refer to the overall standard and they define the maximum speed of the connection, the maximum power and much more besides. They theoretically could be applied to any shape of connector so long as the computer and device are connected up correctly.
Although USB 1.0 is technically the first version of USB it never really made it to market so USB 1.1 is the first standard we all used. It could deliver data at 12Mbps and maximum current draw of 100mA.
The second version of USB arrived in April 2000 and it provided a massive boost in maximum data throughput, up to 480Mbps. Power draw was also increased to a maximum of 1.8A at 2.5V.
USB 3.0 was a big change as it brought new connector types to allow for its extra speed and power draw, with them often coloured blue to denote their prowess. USB 3.0 can run at up to 5Gbps, delivering 5V at 1.8A. It arrived in November 2008.
The latest and greatest version of USB was released in July 2013, though uptake is still almost non-existent. It can deliver 10Gbps of throughput while up to 2A can be drawn over 5V, and optionally either 5A over 12V (60W) or 20V (100W). This is the reason the new MacBook can be powered just by its USB connection.