USB connectors are an integral part of our everyday lives. All of our devices, from smartphones to PCs, come with USB ports that allow us to connect to other devices, and in the case of mobile devices, power the device. Yet despite the ubiquity of USBs, they aren’t all created equal. The USB ports on your laptop or desktop, for example, are most likely USB-As.
Your camera might have a mini-USB, while your Android phone has a USB-B (microUSB).
If you have a newer iPhone, you have a Lightning cable, while your older phone uses a different type of cord. In short, if you have a pile of USB cables in your home, you aren’t alone.
While the type of USB typically refers to the size and shape of a USB connector (a USB-A is larger and flatter than others, for instance) it can also provide clues to the potential of the cable. Micro USBs, for instance, are designed to charge and connect lower power devices like e-readers and transfer data at lower rates than a USB-B, which is designed to be faster and more powerful. All of this is changing, though, with the introduction of USB-C, which is as close to a universal USB as device developers have ever come.
USB-C: The Basics
Like other USB cables, the name USB-C refers to the size and shape of the plug. This newest generation is about the same size as a micro USB, but with a flat, oval shape. This allows the USB to be plugged in in either direction, something that will come as a pleasant surprise to anyone who has ever had to make several attempts to plug in their USB (i.e., everyone). This feature alone makes the USB-C appealing to many users, but it actually offers a lot more than just convenience and simplicity.
Because the USB-C is designed to comply with European regulations calling for a single, universal connector to charge mobile phones, it serves multiple purposes. Many device manufacturers are including USB-C ports not only on mobile devices, but also on laptops, tablets, and 2-in-1 devices, and using them as both a connector and a charger. This allows you to not only quickly power your peripheral devices, but also transfer data at a high rate of speed at the same time, via the same cord.
In fact, it’s the speed of USB-C technology that makes it a clear winner over previous USB versions. The average USB-C can transfer data at a lightning-fast 10Gbps and deliver high-quality audio and video in 4K and UltraHD. The USB-C can also deliver up to 100w of power, which is enough to charge a standard laptop, which is why Apple is already including this USB with MacBook models.
Changing the Peripherals Game
Eventually, experts predict, all hardware peripherals (printers, scanners, etc.) will be equipped with USB-C ports, and that the clunky USB-A is most likely going to disappear completely. Most of the newest models are coming with the cords right out of the box. However, assuming that you have older devices that still have USB-A connectors and lack USB-C ports, you will still need to invest in adapters, docks, or dongles to ensure reverse compatibility. This may be a bit cumbersome for the foreseeable future, but over time, as you replace your computer and peripherals, you’ll be using all USB-C and have total compatibility.
The major exception to the USB-C trend, of course, is the iPhone. As of right now, the iPhone will continue to use the proprietary Lightning charger, which is not compatible with any other devices. At this point, though, that appears to be the only brand that is not shifting to the newer style of USBs, with all other major players in the mobile market (including Samsung and Google) moving in that direction.
With the microUSB not a popular choice due to concerns about reliability, and USB-A and B not always practical, it’s time for a new choice in power and connection. The USB-C is holding the most promise for a simple, universally-compatible, and reliable choice. Expect to see a great deal more about this trend and the changes it will bring in the coming months as new devices hit the shelves.