USB Type C-An introduction
USB Type C, the supposedly magical new standard that promises to solve all our connectivity problems, is finally real and ready for mainstream use. Type C has been in development for a while – we first heard about it over a year ago and frist saw it in action at CES in January. Now, with the high-profile launch of Apple’s new ultra-minimalist MacBook, Type C has gone public in a big way.
Type C is meant to be able to work with all kinds of devices. More importantly, the same plug will be used on both sides of the cable and it is symmetrical so it can go in no matter which way is up. Users are often frustrated by USB plugs because they can’t tell with a glance which way they should fit. Type-C was designed with exactly that in mind.
But there’s a lot more going on under the hood, and there are going to be new problems. For starters, laptops can be charged using Type C just like phones and tablets use USB today, but not all hosts will be able to deliver that much power. Type-C will replace dedicated HDMI,Displayport and VGA video outputs on many devices, but that doesn’t mean all devices with Type-C can be plugged into screens or projectors.
Introducing USB Type-C
First of all, Type-C is not a new version of USB and does not replace USB 3.0 or 2.0. Type-C refers to the plug itself, and it is just a new possible interface for USB 3.1 (which now encompasses USB 3.0 as well). USB 3.1 will also be implemented with traditionally shaped USB ports and cables. Type-C will very commonly be associated with USB 3.1 but it is by no means guaranteed that a device supporting USB 3.1 speeds will use the Type-C connector, and vice versa.
Type-C will supplant the Type-A and Type-B connector types, which have until now been used to define the roles of USB host and target devices respectively. Standard USB cables were designed to have different connectors on either end to prevent people from doing things such as plugging one printer into another and expecting them to work without anyone sending print commands. Worse, people might have plugged two power sources into each other. It’s for this exact reason that power cables have always had different plugs on each end – and so such problems have rarely arisen, if ever.
Over the years, Mini-B and then Micro-B emerged to cater to increasingly smaller devices (more commonly known as Mini-USB and Micro-USB respectively). However, at the same time, devices once intended to be targets began to take on aspects of host devices. We wanted to be able to plug pen drives into smartphones, print directly from storage devices, and use touchscreen tablets as control surfaces, amongst other things. USB On-the-Go (OTG) allowed devices to host other target devices through their Type-B ports. However, dongles were needed because of the different port shapes, which meant the potential of the technology was rarely realised.
Now, we’ll be able to plug anything in to anything else. Theoretically, devices will sense each other and clearly establish what they expect of each other in terms of charging, control and data exchanges. Incompatible products just won’t work – people will still get frustrated, but hopefully not too much. In this sense, Type-C trades one set of problems for another.