What is USB C?

3 min read
06 Aug 2017
3 min read
584 words
Our tech geek explains why USB-C is the future of wired connectivity

What is USB C?
-- Binod Chhetri

Dear Binod,
If you have an electronic device that plugs into something, the chances are it'll make use of USB. From desktop computers to smartphones, pendrives to laptops, USB is the standard when it comes to connectivity, the 'U' stands for 'Universal' for a reason. The standard USB connector you're most familiar with is USB Type-A. Even as we've moved from USB 1 to USB 2 and on to modern USB 3 devices, that connector has stayed the same. It's as massive as ever, and it only plugs in one way (which is obviously never the way you try to plug it in the first time). But as devices became smaller and thinner, those massive USB ports just didn't fit. This gave rise to lots of other USB connector shapes like micro USB connectors and Apple's Lightning. USB Type-C, commonly known as USB-C is set to change all of this. USB-C is essentially a new shape of port and cable, a single-connector standard that every device should be able to use. You'll just need a single cable, whether you're connecting an external hard drive to your laptop, charging your smartphone from a USB charger, or plugging in your laptop to an external monitor. That one tiny connector is small enough to fit into a super-thin mobile device, but also powerful enough to connect all the peripherals you want to your laptop. The cable itself has the same connectors at both ends so it's both flippable and reversible: it's idiot-proof. USB-C features a new, smaller connector shape that's reversible so it's easier to plug in, and the cables can carry significantly more power, so they can be used to charge larger devices like laptops, and they offer up to double the transfer speed of USB 3 at 10 Gbps. 

While connectors are not backwards compatible, the standards are, so adapters can be used with older devices too. USB Type-C ports can also support a variety of different protocols using 'alternate modes,' which allow you to have adapters that can output HDMI or other types of connections like Intel's Thunderbolt 3 from that single USB port. But this largely depends on the device in question, and whether the manufacturer decides to implement it or not. For example, plugging in a USB-C to HDMI adaptor to a laptop should allow you to use an external monitor, but the same may not work on a phone with USB-C. Realistically, many computers will have both USB Type-C ports and larger USB Type-A ports for the immediate future. You'll be able to slowly transition from your old devices, getting new peripherals with USB-C connectors. Even if you get a computer with only USB-C ports, like Apple's new MacBooks, adapters and hubs will fill the gap while the peripheral market catches up. Ultimately, USB-C is the future of wired connectivity and will mark the end of the days when you had to find the right cable for the right device and spend a minute or two fumbling to plug it in the right way.

(Photos by Nirnit Tandukar)