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What's the story with the new USB cables?

And how will USB Type-C affect your current devices?

Apple's Lightning shares similarities with Type-C USB cables. It can be plugged in to an iPhone in either direction and charges it as well.
Apple's Lightning shares similarities with Type-C USB cables. It can be plugged in to an iPhone in either direction and charges it as well.
Image: Richard Unten/Flickr

THERE’S GOING TO be a change in the type of wires you use soon. While USBs are used more and more for charging devices, there’s little to no consistency between them, meaning you may own numerous chargers and ports for individual devices.

That will soon end with the introduction of Type-C USB cables, which are reversible and will bring it increased speeds and charging ability. So what exactly does it mean for you?

So what exactly is USB Type-C?

Type-C will effectively replace the standard USB cables (Type-A) we all use today. As well as being smaller and more efficient, these USB cables are reversible, meaning it doesn’t matter which site or orientation you plug in, it will work.

This is because Type-C has a mid-plate which the plug surrounds. Since it doesn’t place it at the top (or bottom) of the USB like it is currently, you won’t have to spend time figuring out which side is the right way round.

The reversible design was originally announced in December 2013 and is expected to work with all devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops.

The European Parliament also passed a similar law in March 2014 which meant manufacturers would have to provide a universal charger that can be used for any device. Member states will have two years to put the new rules into national law while phone makers will have an extra year to catch up.

Ok, what does this mean for me?

In short, it means faster data speeds and charging. Type-C is compatible with USB 3.1, the latest standard which allows faster data transfer speeds. This means that, in theory, Type C would be able to transfer data at speeds of up to 10Gbps.

With regards to charging, Type-C can deliver power at up to 100 watts at 20 volts which means faster charging.

More importantly, it means it can charge larger devices and would remove the need for a separate charger port for laptops. The removal of what is usually a large component would give laptop makers more space to play around with, or allow them to create smaller or thinner laptops, and even a well-established brand like Apple’s Macbook range is looking to benefit from it.

From a convenience perspective, it means that eventually, you won’t have a situation where you have multiple chargers, each one for a different device, and finding a replacement will be much easier.

One of the reasons the European Parliament voted in favour of it was because it would help reduce waste as well as the cost and hassle on consumers. And they will likely last longer since you will only need one attempt to plug a Type-C cable in, reducing overall wear and tear.

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That’s great, but there’s a catch, isn’t there?

Yes, but it’s not a big one. Replacing something that has been the standard for many years is not going to be an easy task. For one, Type-C isn’t backwards compatible, meaning it will be limited to a few devices when it is rolled out.

It’s possible that adapters will be launched alongside it when it does come out, the new rules and regulations means companies will have to follow them sooner or later, as a way of bridging the gap, but it will take a while before the switch is completed.

It means that the devices you have, in your hand, will soon go out of date and for a while, you will still have different cables for different devices. This isn’t something that will happen immediately though and adapters will be created as a way of bridging the gap.

So when will this be arriving them?

It really depends on the manufacturers but it’s likely mid-2015 will see the first compatible devices appear.

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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