When USB was first released there were basically two types of connectors: the one that you plugged into your computer (which hasn’t changed all that much over the years); and the one that you plugged into your printer, scanner, or other peripheral. The latter was somewhat square and looked kind of like a little house, and was fairly easy to plug in. The former was rectangular, and a pain the in neck to plug in correctly the first time around.
As the standard evolved, that “house” connector proved to be too big to use in any small devices – especially smartphones. Mini-USB was developed. It was a beefy connector, wider on the top than on the bottom, and fairly easy to plug in correctly (the first time). Alas, it was short-lived.
Micro-USB came along, reducing the size along with the raw materials needed to manufacture them – and they are a pain in the neck, too! It’s difficult to tell the up-side from the down-side, and they’re not as strong as the previous standard.
Lightning & USB 3.0
Apple took the lead abandoning the mini-USB standard and came out with the reversible Lightning Connector. The rest of the world stood up and took notice. In the meantime, USB 3.0 was out, but didn’t gain much traction on smartphones and tablets – the USB 3.0 micro connector is almost twice as wide as the standard micro USB connector.
USB 3.0 did offer some advantages: increased data transfer rates, and the ability to carry additional power. It really was a step in the right direction – but it wasn’t as sexy as Lightning.
Like Lightning, USB Type-C is reversible – but the USB standard took things one step further than Lightning: the connector is reversible (it can be plugged in upside down or rightside up), and the cable itself is reversible (it doesn’t matter which end you plug in to your computer or your smartphone).
Convenience might be the “selling point” behind USB Type-C, but that doesn’t touch on the ways USB 3.1 will change how you use your smartphone.
I recently wrote about why your next phone needs to have Qualcomm Quick Charge built-in – unless it’s got a USB Type-C port!
Today’s devices take far too long to charge (unless they’re equipped to support Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 and are paired with a compatible charger). Thanks, in part, to being able to deliver more amperage across the cable, via USB 3.1 charging can be greatly accelerated. Depending on which source you trust, the total power is somewhere between 100W and 200W. I think you can see the potential compared to the relatively “wimpy” 18W that my Onite Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 charger can deliver.
Faster Data Transfers
USB 3.1 includes the SuperSpeed specification which enables data transfers of up to 10 Gbps. That’s enough for casual file moving, but it’s also fast enough for full-frame rate 4K video – but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Today’s televisions and monitors typically use some iteration of the HDMI standard. This enables super-crisp video to be delivered, and the latest version even lets the monitor send power to the device feeding it (no wall-wart or additional USB cable needed). There is a mini version of HDMI, but not too many phones and tablets include it due to added cost and additional size. Some devices even package video-output through the micro USB port, using one of a few competing standards.
USB Type-C can replace HDMI entirely, allowing video output, power delivery, and so much more – all through a single cable. (Did I mention that it’s reversible, too?)
USB Type-C will quickly become what I’m calling the “universal port”. In the future you’ll be able to plug a single cable into your phone or tablet. This cable will charge your device, but it will enable you to have a keyboard and mouse connected to it, along with a high-fidelity speaker system, and 4K monitor. Your phone will be your media hub, enabling you to replace your desktop computer, your Blu Ray player, game console, and your stereo, letting the device that you carry with you be the singular device for all your productivity and entertainment needs.
Apple has already taken the bold move of replacing all the ports on their upcoming laptop with one single USB Type-C port through which all data transfers and charging will take place. The future will be upon us before you know it.