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You're going to start seeing more of these new USB ports from now on

USB Type-C ports and cables are slowly becoming a standard feature for devices, and they’re here to stay.

The 12-inch Macbook from 2015 was one of the first laptops to introduce charging via USB Type-C.
The 12-inch Macbook from 2015 was one of the first laptops to introduce charging via USB Type-C.
Image: Maurizio Pesce/Flickr

IF YOU’RE THINKING of buying a new phone soon, it’s possible you will get one with a different type of USB charger.

USB Type-C is a new standard that’s been around for the last year and a half but it’s slowly making its way onto major devices.

The Note 7, announced yesterday, uses it as the standard charging method and so too do Google’s Nexus range, and the OnePlus 2 and 3. Apple’s 12-inch Macbook from 2015 was one of the first laptops to use it as a charger while more tablets are starting to use it as well.

You might not have a phone that uses it yet – many are still using micro-USB ports or in Apple’s case, the lightning port – but that’s changing and you will benefit from it.

So what exactly is USB Type-C?

Although it mightn’t feel like it right now, Type-C will replace the standard USB ports (Type-A) we use today. Not only are Type-C cables smaller and more efficient, they are also reversible meaning it doesn’t matter which way you plug one in, you will get it right the first time.

The reason for this is because Type-C has a mid-place which the plug surrounds. Since it’s not positioned at the top or bottom like current USB cables, you won’t spend time trying to figure out whether it’s the right way around.

USB gif

But what benefits does it bring to me?

Two things: faster charging speeds and data transfer. Because it’s still a new format, charging is its primary use and it can deliver power at up to 100 watts at 20 volts.

For larger devices, it removes the need for a separate port for laptops and tablets. Removing what is usually a large component would give device makers more space to play around with, creating smaller or thinner devices.

The other benefit is faster transfer speeds. Most USB sticks follow the traditional format, but since Type-C is compatible with USB 3.1, it could transfer data at speeds of up to 10Gbps.

IMG_2006 The standard USB port (left) and Type-C (right).

Back in March 2014, the European Parliament passed a law which meant manufacturers would have to provide a universal charger that can be used for any device within three years.

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The vote was to help reduce waste as well as the cost and hassle for consumers, but it should also mean in the future, you won’t have to hunt around for a specific charger, you can just use one from any device to charge another.

There’s a drawback, isn’t there?

The obvious drawback is despite the standard being around for at least a year and a half, the rollout has been slow.

You can count the number of phones using it on one hand and while it has a lot of potential, it’s going to take a little while longer before it becomes a standard feature. Also, the sheer number of devices that use a standard USB port is significant so expect more adapters and workarounds to appear.

Some USB Type-C cables come with a standard USB port so that is a middle ground for now but you won’t be ditching your micro-USB cables just yet.

A version of this piece appeared on 8th Feb 2015.

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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