The new MacBook contains a USB Type-C port. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a Macbook to benefit from this new standard because Apple is not the only company that is using it. If you are willing to wait for some time, you will find a Type C port on all electronic devices that charge via a USB port.
The USB Type C port is also related to other recently developed USB standards such as USB 3.1 and USB Power Delivery (USB 3.1 enables faster data transfer and USB Power Delivery enables faster power transfer).
What is USB Type C?
USB Type C is actually a new (tiny) connector shape that supports USB standards like USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 and USB Power Delivery.
Most people are familiar with USB Type A. We have transitioned from USB 1 to USB 3 but the connector has not changed at all (we are still using USB Type A ports and connectors). Type A connectors are massive and you have to orient it properly before plugging it in otherwise it won’t fit. The problem with Type A connectors is that it is too bulky to use on digital cameras, smartphones, game controllers and devices that draw power or perform data transfer, using USB wires.
What are the benefits of USB Type C?
On the other hand, USB Type C is 1/3rd the size of USB Type A and can be used on all types of devices. Whether you want to connect your laptop to an external hard drive or use a USB wire to charge your smartphone, USB Type C allows you to do it through a single connector. Both the ends of the wire come with a Type C connector so you can orient or plug it anyway you want.
You no longer have to collect USB cables (with different types of connectors) for all the devices you use. Companies no longer have to fit massive USB ports on devices which are themselves becoming thinner day by day.
USB Type C ports can support different protocols through “alternative modes”, allowing you to use adapters like VGA, DisplayPort and HDMI through a common USB port. For example, Apple has come out with a Digital Multiport Adaptor which can connect VGA/HDMI output, a USB Type A connector and a USB Type C connector, via a single port.
What is USB Power Delivery?
USB Power Delivery is closely connected to USB Type C. Currently, most tablets, smartphones and other types of mobile devices are charged through USB. USB 2.0, the current standard can provide nearly 2.5 watts of power. This is enough to charge a mobile phone but not a laptop because laptops need up to 60 watts of power.
US Power Delivery can step up power delivery to an unprecedented 100 watts. It is also bi-directional which means you can either use it to send power or receive power. Best of all, you can transmit data at the same time you transmit power. Google’s ChromeBook and Apple’s MacBook (the latest models) use Type C ports for charging.
In a few years, USB Type C might become standard in all laptops. It will even allow you to charge your laptops using a portable battery device of the kind your currently use to charge music players and smartphones.
How does USB Type C compare to USB 3.1?
You have to understand that USB Type C is just a type of connector. Under the physical connector, you can have USB 2, USB 3 or even USB 3.1. For instance, the N1 Android tablet from Nokia employs a Type C connector but under it, it just a USB 2.0.
USB 3.1 is a newly developed standard. The theoretical bandwidth on a USB 3 device is 5 Gbps. On a USB 3.1 device, it is 10 Gbps (double of USB 3.0). That is as fast as the Apple’s Thunderbolt connector.
Is USB Type C backward compatible?
The physical Type C connector is not backwards compatible (the underlying standard is). It means that while you cannot plug in an older USB device into a USB Type C connector or connect a USB Type C connector to a larger USB port (directly), you can still connect them with a physical adapter. Take note that the physical adapter must have a Type C connector on one side and an older USB port on the other.
Manufacturers are not going to discard larger USB ports anytime soon (for instance, Google’s latest ChromeBook has both USB Type A ports and USB Type C ports). Even if a new device only has USB Type C ports (like the latest Macs), you can still use physical adapters to connect older USB connectors to them.
There is no doubt that USB Type C is a good upgrade. Though it is true that right now it is making waves only because Apple has adopted it for its new products, it won’t remain an Apple-only product for long. Soon, you may see USB Type C connectors and ports on all types of devices. Apple can be blamed for many things but at least this time you should appreciate them, because they have put their weight behind a product that will benefit everyone and not just Apple users.