The reversible USB 3.1 connector, also known as the USB Type-C connector, marks the convergence of multiple port types into one. As a port that is multi-purpose and developed with the intention of cross-industry adoption, the USB Type-C port is expected to make its way into laptops, PCs, mobiles, tablets and other electronic devices from global manufacturers over the next few years.
Apple has already adopted the USB Type-C connector in the MacBook which becomes the first Mac, and laptop, to offer this port.
Features of USB Type-C Connector
One Port, Multiple Functions
The USB Type-C connection is designed to be universal. Operations that need cables of specific types can all be performed using a Type-C connector. As the image below represents, the Type-C connector is able to act as a power cable, USB connector, and video out for HDMI, VGA and Display ports.
The structure of the port is symmetrical, making the question of checking for top or bottom side irrelevant. Both the ends of the connector are same as well, so any end of the cable can be plugged into a Type-C port.
Traditionally, the USB ports have supported unidirectional power flow – from the host device to a peripheral device. Charging your phone from the USB port of your laptop is an example of this case. With 3.1 standard, power can be supplied by either of the two devices connected by the Type-C connector.
Multiple ‘Power Delivery’ profiles are available for USB standards and the USB 3.1 Type-C connector can scale up the power delivery to support up to 5A current supplied at 20 V.
In simple terms, the laptop’s USB port would be able to charge your mobile battery at full speed.
High Data Transfer Rate
The data transfer rate on USB 3.1 has been boosted to a max of 10 Gbit/s. This mode of transmission called as ‘SuperSpeed Plus’ (stylized as SUPERSPEED+) is supported by the USB Type-C connector. This makes it capable of driving audio/video for 4K displays as well.
The USB Type-C specification states the durability of the connector to be ~10000 cycles of insertion and removal between the receptacle (port) and the plug. If that gives you an impression of being less, consider that the specification for standard USB only stated ~1500 cycles. This makes the Type-C connector much more durable than the standard one.
Given that the design of the connector is drastically changed, backward compatibility was imperative if the new standard expected a fast adoption. The USB Type-C port will work with the currently widespread USB cables, but an adapter is needed for that. Several electronics manufacturers are expected to make these available. Apple is also offering a USB Type-C to USB-C, HDMI and USB adapter.
Implications of the New USB Standard
The USB Type-C connection is basically the culmination of three specifications coming together – the USB 3.1 specification, along with USB Power Delivery and USB Type-C Cable and Connector specification. The USB-IF (USB Implementers Forum) has submitted them to IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) for inclusion in the International Standard IEC 62680 series, Universal Serial Bus interfaces for data and power. This means that USB Type-C is likely to be a globally accepted standard.
The scenario of multiple ports and wires connected to a laptop is very common today. Electronics manufacturers would be integrating this standard in their products for years to come. It does means fewer ports on your machine and fewer wired connections.
It also means that you would be lugging around adapters for the various port types till the industry transitions. An era of new-gen adapters for old-gen ports is dawning. Get your wallets out.