Just about anyone with an electronic device that plugs into something else is probably practically familiar with USB. Whether you’re a smartphone user or desktop professional, keeping data on memory sticks on working on the go with your laptop, USB always has its place as the gold standard of connectivity.
This standard got a new incarnation in 2013 with the advent of USB 3.1, coming right along with USB-C connectors. Shortly afterward, USB-C got a few major consumer device applications that suddenly positioned it as the premier option, from Macbooks to smartphones like Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy. But what exactly takes a USB-C cable above its predecessors? Here’s a closer look at these fine details.
How A USB Type-C Changes The Landscape
As a start, we should clarify a little something about the USB Type-C connector. Technically, it’s not a new standard like USB 1.1 or USB 3.0. Those are upgrades that determine exactly what a connection can do as far as speed and other features. However, USB-C is more about establishing a strong physical connection, the same type that you would see with a mini USB or micro USB. However, USB-C is trying to replace things on both ends of the cable, unlike these two other options.
One other parallel option that puts USB-C cables above other options is Thunderbolt 3. When 2015 rolled around, Intel mentioned how this new version of their port would use USB-C connectors, retaining all of the benefits and reversibility. To put this in perspective, Thunderbolt is four times faster than the baseline USB 3.1 speed. This was a great addition for people with the need to transfer large files quickly. Combine these with a USB C dock, and you can get a lot of functionality with one cable, especially for laptops.
One area of interest regarding USB-C is the way that it could change the future of the headphone jack. Many modern smartphones are trying to remove the 3.5mm connector that has been the gold standard for headphones for decades, and USB-C was bandied as a possible replacement. But if this was to take place, what type of benefits would we see? For one thing, the current headphone jack is seen as a bulkier addition to many phones. Part of the reason why Apple abandoned it for the iPhone 7 is that they wanted to make a thinner phone. USB-C is relatively flat by comparison, making it an ideal match for headphones.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons USB-C may be desired to phase out the 3.5mm headphone jack is due to the technology’s sheer age. To give a little perspective, 3.5mm headphones date back to the 60s, and have one purpose. In fact, many manufacturers need to implement new technology to deal with interference from using it. By comparison, USB-C is a digital connection and can play music while doing several other functions.
USB-C Vs Other USB Versions
To get a full picture for USB-C being a replacement at both ends of the cable, it’s important to take some time to understand the existing options, and how USB plans to supplant them. For example, 3.1 is the latest version of USB. This is able to deliver 10Gbps of throughput. In terms of power capacity, USB 3.1 can draw up to 2A over 5V, with the additional option to draw 5A over 12V or 20V.
Moving onto the plugs, the classic standard is type A, the original and still most popular design. However, type-A plugs have made several changes in order to stay in step with the latest technology. Most of the variants of Type-A, like Mini Type-A and Micro Type-A, have depreciated and were never really commonly accepted in the first place.
Generally, the Type-B connector is generally used on the other end of the USB cable. You can see a lot more variation when it comes to these because this is the “client end.” This is also part of the reason why you see so many more variants in terms of Type-B cables compared to Type-A. Many devices naturally need a smaller plug at the end, like smartphones. In fact, some devices have proprietary Type-B USB sockets.
Now, we can talk about USB-C. Compared to its other variations, you don’t have to worry about backward compatibility as much. The reason for this is because ultimately, Type-C is designed to replace both, being small enough to not need a mini or micro variant. Another feature that bears mentioning is that USB-C devices are completely reversible, working no matter what direction that you use. To compare these to the other cables, USB-C also builds off of the USB 3.1 standard, meaning that you enjoy all the power and speed of this framework. As backward compatibility goes, the cable will work, but you’ll need to buy an adapter. The good news is the more the connectors become adopted, the easier it will be to buy these peripherals.
As a final note, we should talk about some of the concerns people are having as we progress further and further with USB-C. Some have expressed worry about the physical design of the connector, feeling that with a hollow plug and delicate tab in the socket, it may be too fragile to serve as a new standard. Perhaps the biggest concern, though, is the number of cheap, poor-quality USB-C accessories flooding the market. Some have damaged devices due to having unsupported voltage levels.
However, these mainly date back to when the devices were in their relative infancy. Nowadays, you can buy plenty of peripherals, like a USB C docking station, that doesn’t have half of these safety concerns. However, to stack the deck in your favor, it’s a good idea to try and do your homework and stick to best practices, especially if you are using multiple cables or a complicated plug-in setup.
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