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What is USB-C and why is it important?

USB-C cable

2016 was the year we saw several big names in the smartphone world embrace USB-C, from LG to HTC to Microsoft. Not only can the new connector provide a more efficient way to charge devices, it’s a way to phase out the headphone jack we’ve become accustomed to. While there’s still a way to go before we see USB-C commonly adopted, here’s everything you need to know about the connector and why it is becoming increasingly important.

What is USB-Type C?

We’ve all heard of USB – chances are if you have an electronic device, it’ll have a USB port. But, what is USB-Type C, or USB-C for short? Developed by the same brains behind the original USB connector, USB-C is a new way of universally connecting devices, so you’ll be able to connect to multiple gadgets with the same cable. Gone are the days of different cable shapes and sizes – with USB-Type C you have a reversible cable that all compatible devices can use.

Is this the end of USB as we know it?

In a word, no. USB-C is not the new standard in the same way USB 3.1, the latest iteration of the original, is. USB 3.1 is all about upgrading what the connection is capable of in terms of speed and features, whereas USB-Type C is purely about the physical connector, much in the same way Micro-USB and Mini-USB are.

USB-C is tiny compared to what we’re used to and is already compatible with a host of devices from well-known names, like Apple, Dell, HP, Microsoft and Samsung, to name but a few. USB-C also supports a variety of protocols using what’s known as “alternate modes”, so you can use adapters to output HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort and more. USB-Type C is all about making life easier by having a single cable to connect a number of devices.

Devices

Why does USB-C enable fast-charging?

Perhaps the best thing about the rise of USB-C is that it enables fast-charging. The nifty little connector can deliver up to 100 watts of power at 20 volts and power can be transferred at the same time the gadget is transmitting data across the connection. Not only does this mean speedy charging for smartphones, it could signal the end of clunky laptop chargers, which we won’t miss lugging about.

The only downside is USB-C isn’t backwards compatible, which means you can’t use it with older devices, but that’s nothing an adapter won’t fix. It’s likely that most new devices will come with USB-Type C ports as standard, so we won’t need to worry about compatibility for much longer.

What does this mean for the headphone jack?

USB-C could also mean the end of the trusty 3.5mm headphone jack on smartphones. While we saw, Apple ditch the jack on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, they stayed true to their Lightning port rather than adopting USB-Type C. However, there are a couple of reasons why USB-C is likely to be the future for audio on smartphones.

Firstly, the headphone jack is bulky – if there’s one thing we like, it’s increasingly thinner phones. Ditching the 3.5mm jack would mean even flatter phones, which is why we’re seeing a number of Android devices wave goodbye to it. Opting for a USB-Type C audio connection would also mean better sound quality, as the headphone jack still uses an analogue connection. USB-C would enable digital audio in the form of USB Audio – something which Android has supported since Lollipop in 2014.

USB-C charger

What does the future hold for USB-C?

We’ve already started to see USB-Type C ports on Apple’s new MacBook and Google’s Chromebook Pixel, as well as smartphones like the HTC 10 and LG G5. Undoubtedly, USB-C has started to make waves in the world of technology, but it’s not without its drawbacks.

Some are concerned that the design of USB-C is too flimsy compared to Apple’s Lightning cable, for instance. What’s more, the market for USB-C products is still unregulated, so there have been a number of dangerous accessories hitting the shelves that could harm your device with excessive voltage levels.

Despite these concerns, USB-C is a huge step in the right direction for more efficient connectivity and impressive capabilities. It heralds in faster charging for laptops and smartphones, as well as increasingly thinner devices that no longer need a headphone jack. It also signals the end of multiple clunky cables for one adaptable source of power, alongside two-way connectivity.

The industry has only just started to scratch the surface of what USB-C is capable of and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead in 2017!