If you’ve seen the latest, super-thin Macbook from Apple, then you may have noticed a very strange change they’ve made to the ports on it. Namely, that besides the headphone jack, there’s only one: a USB-C port. What is this mysterious USB-C port? Why did Apple get rid of the Thunderbolt, MagSafe charger, etc.? Let’s discuss in today’s Tech 101 for the week.

What is USB-C?

 

The USB Implementers Forum, the same group that came up with the original USB standard, are the people responsible for the new USB-C, or USB Type C, standard. This group, comprised of over 700 different companies including Microsoft, Samsung, Apple, Dell, and Intel to name a few, develop, certify, and help promote new USB standards and now, they’re ready to push out this –the latest standard.

USB has always stood for Universal Serial Bus, with the emphasis being on that first word: Universal. The idea behind USB in any variation is to create a standard by which most major manufacturers can all share a common connector type –making it easier for manufacturers to produce chargers, cables, and for accessory/peripheral makers to do the same.

USB Type C

Over the years we’ve gone through iterations of USB. From USB, to USB 2.0 (which is essentially on most devices nowadays) to USB 3.0 (that is slowly becoming the standard on new devices with it’s blue-colored end), and now we have USB-C (which is considered to be USB 3.1 technically with Type C connectors on the ends).

What are the Benefits?

With each new version comes improvements, usually with data transfer rates increasing as well as the amount of power the cable can transmit and USB-C is no exception. See the chart below for more detail:

USB Comparison Chart

One of the major benefits to the Type C connector though isn’t just the increased data rate and ability to send a full 1.5/3.0A charge to the device in addition to the baseline 900mA, but the fact that the connector, and cable, are completely reversible in every way.

Just like the Thunderbolt and Lightning standards, the USB-C can be plugged in to the port upside down or right side up. (Is there such a thing with something that’s reversible? You get the idea.) Which makes it a lot easier to plug in and less prone to damage it when, you know, you’re racing to get it plugged in before your laptop dies, for example.

Unlike those other standards though, the cables themselves will also be reversible. As in no need for a male and female end to the cable, both sides will work to plug in in either direction. Again, a handy little addition.

In addition to this, the connector is also much smaller than traditional USB connecters and this allows for devices that have them to be able to be thinner themselves (probably why Apple put it on said Mac).

What are the Downsides?

The only major downside to this new standard is the same downside with all new standardized formats: adoption.

Since it’s going to be a while for manufacturers to implement the new standard, we won’t see it replace the other USB standards for quite some time.

This will ultimately mean that current devices, when needing to connected to newer devices, will need adapters of some sort in order to work properly, but those adapters aren’t terribly expense (so long as you don’t buy them from Apple).

What Does the C Stand For in USB-C?

Since the new USB-C connector is quite small, you might think the C stands for something like compact, but in actuality, it was just the next letter in the alphabet.

USB Type A vs Type B

Type A and B are just different connector types that USB has implemented over the years and Type C is just the latest type. In fact you can have a USB 3.1 cable with the standard type A connector and one with a type C and they both will benefit from the data rates and power transfer, but, ultimately, because of the slimmer profile and other mentioned benefits the type C will most likely become the new standard and the only connector type you’ll see in the future.

USB 3.1 Type C vs Type A

And there you have it, everything you could ever need to know about the new mysterious USB-C. Let me know in the comments below if there’s anything I missed that you think people should be aware of.

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  • llf

    Why technically can USB-C be faster than the old standards?
    And could you also compare the manufacturing costs?

    • Good questions! Adding the answers in tonight. Thanks!

  • mizkitty

    Apple’s USB-C is only 3.0 speed…not 3.1.
    They call it USB 3.1 (Gen 1).
    It’s just marketing BS to fool the Mac fanboys…

    • Ha, funny. You’re absolutely right. I learned something new. Thanks!