USB Type-C: I've Never Been So Excited About A Dumb Little Port

USB Type-C: I've Never Been So Excited About a Dumb Little Port

The future of cables is finally coming and it's god damned fantastic. Welcome to USB Type-C.

By now you've no doubt heard how USB Type-C is the single omni-port on Apple's new MacBook. That and the ensuing outcry of dongle outrage. But don't let that sour you to the idea of USB Type-C because it really is fantastic — at least if you have more than one.

Here is a quick, down-and-dirty primer of what makes USB Type-C so great:

  • It's reversible, like Apple's Lightning cable. No more fumbling to plug it in the right way.
  • It can transfer data at up to 10Gbps.
  • It can do video. Forget specialised video ports like DisplayPort and HDMI (eventually anyway) because Type-C can do that too. And in both directions. A single cable could carry video from phone to PC or PC to phone. Or to TVs, tablets, you name it.
  • It can carry a crapload of power. Depending on the wall-wart you plug your Type-C cable into, it can deliver up to 100W of power. That's enough to charge full-size laptops, not just ones with underpowered processors.
  • Like all USBs, Type-C is an open standard. It won't be exclusive to any one company or line of gadgets.
  • Type-C is backwards-compatible. You can use with the old ports that are already all around you (if you get an adaptor).
  • It's tiny. Small enough to make laptops thinner and work its way into phones and tablets.
USB Type-C: I've Never Been So Excited About a Dumb Little Port

A USB Type-C port next to USB Type-A ports on the new Chromebook Pixel

It's that last point that's really exciting. Imagine a future where your unruly cable drawer can be condensed down into just a couple of USB Type-C cables. You'll want more than one, of course, but the very same cable could (and almost certainly will) someday charge your phone, your laptop, charge your phone from your laptop, and connect your PC to your external monitor. As someone who's perpetually drowning in a sea of proprietary cables for about a bazillion separate gadgets, I've never been so excited about a port.

That future's still a ways off though. USB Type-C devices have only just started to ship. The new Chromebook Pixel is the first I've seen in person, and so far other announcements have mostly been limited to the new MacBook and a few other randoms.

Of course the change comes with its downsides. It looks like USB Type-C in the new MacBook spells the end of the truly wonderful MagSafe. And even if everyone was to put Type-C in everything starting tomorrow, we'd still have to deal with legacy ports that are all over the place. Fortunately Type-C is backwards compatible, but best case scenario is still a few years of adaptor hell. If Type-C doesn't reach a tipping point like Type-A did, there's no guarantee that we'll ever even move past that stage.

USB Type-C: I've Never Been So Excited About a Dumb Little Port

A trio of adaptors.

But just imagine, a few years from now, going on holiday with a laptop, a phone, a tablet and a single cable to charge them all. A single cable that's easy to replace at any corner store should it break or get lost. Just one cable for all the ports. It's a future that can't come soon enough.


Comments

    keen!!!

      Being excited about a little port???
      Well, I AM excited about one "port", but it has nothing to do with IT.
      If somebody is excited by usb port, hmm ....

        I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you haven't "Docked" with a "Port" in a while....

    Would it be possible to have a usb-c with all its pins in a magnetic plug like the Magsafe power cord. That would be really cool

    Heh. Recently saw a USB stick put into a time capsule to be opened in 50 years. They won't be able to read it. Not to mention the fact that is was a cheap piece of crap one.

      I think you forgot to read the part where it says that it's backwards compatible...

        I think in 50 years time they may have a hard time finding the dongle to be able to plug it in.

          if we can still find drives to read 50 year old tape reels, and 100 year old typewriter ribbon, I think we'll be okay with USB.

            No, we won't be OK with USB. Doesn't matter if they have a reader available or not. Most likely any data on it will be gone. Flash memory has a shelf life. The bits stored degrade over time by leakage of electrons and other factors. Even high quality manufacturers like Verbatim, Ti and Kingston specify data retention times of the order of 10 to 20 years. These are truly stupid things to put into time capsules.

              It's pretty funny. They didn't even ask the IT dept about it and all (it's buried in the wall right next to our office). They used a branded USB bracelet thing with the organisation's name on it. I can only assume it is a terribly cheap one as those are usually bought in bulk so you'll want to have an attractive price.

          Just put a laptop in with it next time :P

      do you know about magnets and hard-drives (not SSD)?

    I like it, however it will need all vendors to get onboard for it to work.

    I used to own an iPhone 5, which has Apple's reversible lighting connector. When I jumped from an iPhone to an Android phone (S4 then a Note 3), the lack of a reversible charging/data port on the Android phones was something that I really noticed, and missed!

    I'm back using an iPhone again as convenience is a priority for me, and in this regard TouchID and a reversible connector excel in delivering convenience. I would love to jump back to an Android, as I actually prefer Android to iOS, however there's no way I'm going back to Android until USB Type-C is in full effect.

    Samsung's S6 now has an upgraded fingerprint sensor, equivalent to TouchID, but it still lacks a reversible connector. Next years' S7 should hit the spot though with fingerprint sensor + USB type-C.

      OK, so let me get this straight in my head - you prefer Android to iOS but chose an iPhone because you prefer the plug. So you'll spend several hours a day using the OS you don't prefer so that for 5 seconds a day you can use the plug/connector that you prefer. Have I got that right? If so, you are either telling porkies, for whatever reason, or you're the stupidest person I have come across this week. Seriously, that's like choosing the car that's easiest to change a flat tyre on, rather than the one you prefer to drive.

      Even so, if convenience really is a priority for you, going back into Apple's walled garden is definitely not the solution for you or anyone else. I honestly can't remember the last time I plugged my phone into anything - I just dump it on it's handy little pillow while I have breakfast and in 30-40 minutes it's got enough charge in it for another day.

        Not everyone interacts with the OS of their mobile telephone for 'several hours every day'.
        Not everyone cares about the OS of their mobile telephone as much as you.
        Not everyone has the same priorities in a mobile telephone as you.

        'The stupidest' person in this discussion is the one making a whole bunch of silly assumptions, coming up with shit analogies and then attacking other people.

          Agreed. I used my mobile for 15 minutes yesterday and 30 minutes maximum today. How anyone spends extended hours on their phone alone is beyond me.

        you prefer Android to iOS but chose an iPhone because you prefer the plug

        Did you even read what I wrote? Or are deliberately twisting my words because you're a troll?

        I said my priority is convenience. I own both an iPhone and an Android phone, and at this stage I can adamantly say that the iPhone is far more convenient for me due to the way I use my phone. Firstly, I want passcode/lock security, and nothing has come close to the convenience of Apple's TouchID, until now at least with the finger print sensor on the S6. Secondly, I charge my phone in lots of short sessions throughout the day as I come and go from my desk. I also use my phone for playback in my car, meaning I'm repeatedly plugging it in an unplugging it. There's isn't a day that I'm not repeatedly plugging my phone into a cable to either charge it or for music playback. With that the being the case, Apple's reversible lightning makes a huge difference for me! For other's it would be of no consequence, but for me that's not the case, and it's something that I currently factor into my decision about which hardware I choose to buy or not buy. Eventually I'll switch to wireless charging, and eventually I'll have wireless playback in my car, and when this occurs I won't give a rats snatch whether my phone's port is reversible or not, but that's not the case for me at the moment.

        It's not the single feature that defines my hardware decision - it's simply a variable I've taken into consideration in light of my current priority being convenience. I thought this was quite clearly stated in my original post, but clearly I overestimated the comprehension skills of at least one Giz reader.

      Reversible connector? People still plug phones in? No qi coil, no purchase here.

        I use my phone a lot so I need to charge it where ever I go. Work, Uni, Friends house, and anywhere work or life takes me. I don't want to carry around either the charging mat or the charging block so I can have "cordless" charging.

      Why do you need a reversible charger to switch back? The latest flagship android phones support wireless charging and the Samsung S6 has a comparable fingerprint sensor to the iPhone. There is a game toddlers play that involves putting blocks through a hole with a matching cross-section, plugging in cables requires the same rudimentary skills. Anyone who finished preschool/prep./kindergarten should have the skills, I've seen ravens and other animals that can figure it out. Frankly, the fact that it's reversible should be the least interesting "feature" of USB C, the power capacity and bandwidth are more worthy of excitement for the reasons already outlined by Eric Limer.

        Just because something is easily done doesn't mean it can't be simpler. Why bother with connectors? Anyone who's used a soldiering iron for 5 minutes can just attach and detach the wires from the phone directly, a much stronger connection and saves on materials.

      To be fair, the s6 has wireless charging built right in, as do many android phones. Kinda trumps the lightning connector.

    So does this mean the next iPhone is going to be Type C instead of Lightning? Of course that could not be the case as the point of the Macbook Air only having one cable is that they want devices to connect via the cloud.

      I would put money on it. The only reason Apple developed Lightning (and chose to add Intel's Thunderbolt to other devices) is because one of the downsides of an open standard like USB is that it can take a little longer to develop, and with their closed ecosystem Apple can afford not to wait and go with a proprietary solution.

    I'm excited for non-Chromebook laptops that have more than one of them.

    The USB-C port must be very expensive.
    What else could make MacBook cost $1800? It must be this port! Apple even didn't put a second one to keep price from blowing further.

      To be fair, the PC laptop/convertibles with Core M are also pretty expensive so I imagine Intel is charging a premium for them or something.

        The entry-level MacBook ($A 1799) comes with a Core M-5Y31 which has a recommended customer price of $US 281. The more expensive option ($A 2199) has a Core M-5Y51 which has the same recommended price of $US 281. The only other difference between the two versions is the SSD (256 vs 512 GB).

        By comparison, the standard processor option in the 2015-refresh 13-inch Pro (also $A 1799) is the Core i5-5257U which has a recommended price of $US 315. The 2015-refresh Airs all come with a Core i5-5250U as standard, that also has a recommended price of $US 315. While we don't know what price Apple actually pays for the chips, the Core Ms seem to be cheaper than the standard options in the other machines.

        The processors are essentially off-the-shelf parts and actually pretty cheap. What you actually pay all the moneys for is all the bespoke parts and the fancy manufacturing.

      What else could make MacBook cost $1800?
      How about the piss poor USD -> AUD conversion rate that recently saw all Apple devices receive an approximate 15% price rise?

        still 1200 in the US, which for them is a PREMIUM price.

      The original MacBook Airs were horrendously expensive too, they'll cut the price once all the early adopters have covered the cost of R&D of the new MacBook.

    "Imagine a future where your unruly cable drawer can be condensed down into just a couple of USB Type-C cables. You’ll want more than one, of course, but the very same cable could (and almost certainly will) someday charge your phone, your laptop, charge your phone from your laptop, and connect your PC to your external monitor."

    I don't have to "imagine", that's been my life for a while, now. I can charge my tablet, phone, Kindle, Bluetooth speaker and even my bicycle lights from the same microUSB cable, all through my laptop, too. When I travel I can take all my gadgets and all I need to keep them running is my laptop charger and one USB to microUSB cable. If I don't bring my lappie (which is increasingly the case), then it's just a tiny, generic, USB charger. It's not necessarily magical or exciting, it's just how the world outside Apple's walled garden is.

    USB 3.0 already does video. I connect my Thinkpad 8 up to my Asus VariDrive via USB and the VariDrive connects it to my monitor. OK, I need an HDMI cable between the VariDrive and the screen but I'd rather have that than fork out for a new monitor just to get a new port.

      You do realise you mentioned at least 3 different cables in your argument for "only microUSB"?

      Regardless, we can all agree Type-C is in every way the best iteration of USB yet.

    Production samples of USB-C connectors starting rolling off the production line in September last year, but it takes an Apple press release for it to be reported on.

    Imagine how many awesome things might lie outside the realms of an Apple press release that could be reported on.

    The Nokia N1 was one of the first devices announced to have a USB-C connector - yet the best Gizmodo US review could do is completely neglect to mention the fact it has a USB-C connector and call it "Pretty Great for a $250 iPad Mini Clone". Yet when a new Mac comes out with the same connector, there's a dozen stories written about how life changing the new connector is.

    http://gizmodo.com/nokia-n1-hands-on-pretty-great-for-a-250-ipad-mini-cl-1689205204

    So a product with a new connector is an Apple clone, but when Apple later add the same connector, it's ground breaking.

    Props to Gizmodo Australia for giving the N1 a proper review and mentioning the inclusion of the USB-C port though.

    Last edited 12/03/15 12:53 pm

      But that's a Nokia not an Apple so therefore it doesn't count.
      Until Apple releases something it doesn't exist as anything but an Apple clone / knock-off.
      Apple is FIRST with everything, even when their not - just ask Gizmodo, they'll tell you.

    Type-C is backwards-compatible. You can use with the old ports that are already all around you (if you get an adaptor).

    That's not backwards compatible enough. A huge part of what makes USB an absolute juggernaut is that your old/cheap USB devices plug right into your fancy new USB ports, and that your fancy new devices still work with your old USB ports (painfully slow, but enough that you don't have to install any new hardware for a single device). It's not the transfer rates or the amount of power it can draw, those things are icing on the cake, it's that USB is the very definition of plug and play. I'm not saying it'll fail, but it's certainly going to have to work a lot harder to compete with not just Apple's alternative but older USB.
    All fanboy wars over USB vs Lightning side, the world is better off without the fragmentation that comes from having USB vs USB-C vs Lightning. How user friendly USB has been so far is a major part of what brought computers and devices like MP3 players and smartphones into the daily lives of so many people.

      USB is already fragmented though, there's like 10 different plug types, and then there's Apple all alone. We already live with this today. At some point we have to move forward though and if everyone gets on USB Type-C early (even Apple seems to want in this time) then we suffer through 1-2 years of some inconvenience (typical phone contract and laptop upgrade cycle) but we have a world where nearly every cable works with every device. No need to carry around multiple chargers & data cables for your laptop, phone, watch, shoes, etc. If manufacturers don't move over early then we spread that transitional pain out over the next 10-15 years.

        No need to carry around multiple chargers & data cables for your laptop, phone, watch, shoes, etc

        And a big part of that is that while one end may be variable the other end of the USB cable is universal. One charger does the job, and the cord that came with your phone will plug into any PC on the planet. I have a car charger with two USB ports on it that covers me for everything. Moving away from that towards multiple port styles on the PC/charger side is very dangerous.
        I understand progress must be made and I'm certainly not against progress, but I feel that they could have easily preserved much more backwards compatibility than they did. If we were starting from scratch I'd be all for this design, there's no doubt it is superior and I want better performance and a wider range of functionality, but it's not worth going back to the dark ages of connecting devices to PCs.

        I feel like they're opening up another format war here that could last for decades. USB-C isn't going to inherit the throne like it did last time. Odds are someone is going to come in and push an alternative that will almost certainly have some advantages. With the right brands behind it that could easily result in an end to this golden age of plug and play.
        Do you guys remember when you had to go install every random piece of junk equipment your family members brought? Being expected to make their incompatible devices work without spending a cent because 'you know computers'? Those people haven't died out. Your average 20 year old knows exactly as much as your grandma does about computers. They know how to use Windows, a mouse and USB because they've been doing it for years, but throw them a Windows 8 PC without a Start button in the corner and with USB-C ports and you'll send them straight back to 1991.

        Although honestly I think the more likely scenario is that USB 3.0 is going to kill USB-C the same way it slaughtered Firewire. It'll be a shame because it's definitely a technically superior standard.

          I have a car charger with two USB ports on it that covers me for everything.And it still can. You might have to buy an adapter or USB Type A to Type C cable in the short term I you buy a new phone, at least until you upgrade your car charger, but that's no different from the USB Type A to USB micro cable you have now.

          Moving away from that towards multiple port styles on the PC/charger side is very dangerous.We aren't moving to multiple ports, we're moving to one port, USB Type C. In the short term we'll have two ports while everything changes over.

          Do you guys remember when you had to go install every random piece of junk equipment your family members brought?That was mostly due to drivers in the bad old days.

          I think the more likely scenario is that USB 3.0 is going to kill USB-CUSB Type C IS USB 3.0. USB 3.1 to be exact. Type C is just the plug, like USB micro. It's not competing with USB 3.0, it's an upgrade to it.

          Last edited 12/03/15 8:34 pm

            We aren't moving to multiple ports, we're moving to one port, USB Type C. In the short term we'll have two ports while everything changes over.

            We're only moving towards that if everybody works together to phase out USB and agrees that USB-C is the way to go.

            USB Type C is a connector for USB 3.1. It's not competing with USB 3.0, it's an upgrade to it.

            It's both an upgrade and a competitor. You guys seem to think of USB-C as a sure thing. Part of a plan that everyone in the world has agreed to because it makes sense logically. And it totally makes sense from our perspective. If I thought everyone would automatically jump on board I'd be right there with you but it's very likely that people are going to reject phones that come with USB-C cables instead of classic USB cables. Phone manufacturers don't care. They might like USB-C and have great features planned for it, but if it starts costing them sales they'll ditch it and stick with USB. Look at how quickly Apple ditched Firewire only iPods.
            It sounds stupid but it's not to be under estimated. A big part of what made Nokia so strong was their charger compatibility. Nokia really sunk their teeth in with users because switching to another brand meant replacing all your chargers and not being able to just use your friends charger while you were at their house. When you're talking about people who replace their computer every 8-10 years it's like asking them to install foreign power outlets in their house.

            A big part of the USB success story is that it's upgrades haven't required an upgrade. You've had slow and fast USB ports, but in terms of being able to plug the cord into the computer you've had one port. When you brought a new computer you didn't have to decide to get two USB1 ports on the back just in case you needed them. It allowed for a very natural, conflict free upgrade. You can technically do that with USB-C, but it means you've got to invest in some more desk clutter to get your devices working and you've got to know what to ask for.
            Most users don't even realise USB has been upgraded over the years. This time, if everything goes 100% according to plan and they're forced to make a conscious decision to upgrade for a single device, they're going to be painfully aware of it and that generally means resistance.

              A big part of the USB success story is that it's upgrades haven't required an upgrade. You've had slow and fast USB ports, but in terms of being able to plug the cord into the computer you've had one port Upgrades have required an upgrade. Usually not on the charger or PC side sure but on the device side we've got mini/micro/Type-B/micro B and others. Let alone 30pin and lightning. People already deal with this pain today and the great thing about Type-C is that it really only continues this pain in the short term. Once it's in widespread use then suddenly it's all gone away, you have 1 port on both sides of the equation for all your devices (excluding your iPhone which will probably still use lightning).

              but it's very likely that people are going to reject phones that come with USB-C cables instead of classic USB cables As above, people are already dealing with a myriad of USB connectors, what's one more? And if it ultimately makes things easier? Also the EU currently mandates that all phones sold in Europe come with a cable or adapter that has USB Type A on the charger end. If the same was applied to USB Type C then no one would have to worry about what to get, their phone would have everything they need out of the box.

              you've got to invest in some more desk clutter to get your devices working and you've got to know what to ask for again you already need to know what to ask for (micro/mini/etc) and there is no more clutter with type c. You already have a type a to micro cable, just replace that with a type c to micro OR a type a to type c.

              There is more than one incentive here for manufacturers too. In the race to the thinnest possible devices the USB type a connector has been holding them back. We've already seen manufacturers implement their own solutions, this way we get one nice standard across them all.

      Certainly the USB standard-A connector has been incredibly successful in that regard, taking us all the way from the original spec in the mid-90s right to the present with the same physical shape. But the proliferation of other USB connectors can't be overlooked. The standard-B connector that's surprisingly common on many PC peripherals, the micro and mini versions of both A and B that appeared on phones and other devices, not to mention non-standard connectors. USB C obviates the need for all of those, while also introducing the capability to use USB for more purposes than before (already can be used to connect monitors, in the future might replace ethernet cables and a whole bunch of other things too). Personally I have no doubt it's the way forward for every purpose and every device.

      You can only be so much when it comes to backwards compatible. The reason operating systems like Windows ME and so on were failing were because they tried to code for 10 years of crap. Eventually you need to let it go and get to a new level of technology.

      Most routers are backwards compatible but eventually if you are still using wireless g on an N based router you slow that junk down for all users. Sometimes you just need to upgrade. Usb-c will be the next USB for the next 15 - 20 years or so.. may as well upgrade.. it allows for smaller devices, faster charging, everything you could want

    One Cable to rule them all,
    One Cable to find them,
    One Cable to bring them all
    and in the darkness bind them.

      I am coming for my cable.

    Wow people care about the cable being reversible! Are these the same people who struggle to use their front door keys? So by design half the pins in this new standard are redundant, excellent can't wait for this amazing technology to arrive.

      The pins are not redundant. Refer to this diagram:

      http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/type-c-pinout.png

        Threw the pimp claw at him. I wonder if he has trouble with his keys :P lol!

    I've been dreaming of a single plug laptop dock for a long time. I finally kind of got it with the Surface Pro 3's dock but it's not a standard port and there's no other accessories using it so I'm excited about USB Type-C. BUT I wish it was a magnetic connector like the MacBook or Surface.

    I guess Eric missed the article published September 2014:
    http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/09/your-next-laptop-could-have-the-holy-grail-of-usb-ports/

    Anyway, 2015 seems to be the year of the USB, but lets just wait and C.

      I C what you did there...

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