The newest universal serial bus (USB) technology is called USB Type-C when referring to the cable, and USB 3.1 when referring to the spec. The cables began production in September, and the non-profit USB Implementer’s Forum (USB-IF) dubs the standard “SuperSpeed” USB 3.1 for good reason. It allows for double the bandwidth in data transfer (up to 10 Gbps); additionally, it boasts reversible and dynamic power delivery features, and has DisplayPort™ capabilities on par with HDMI cables.
The USB-IF expects to see the new standard show up in products shipping in 2015, and reports suggest that Apple®’s next MacBook® will support USB Type-C as well. What might we expect from devices that support the newest USB standard?
Reversible plug orientation
Users seem most excited that they will never have to struggle attaching cables upside down. Like its proprietary cousin, the Apple Lightning™ cable, USB Type-C plug orientation works both ways—upside down or right side up, it doesn’t matter. It is a symmetrical design, and only slightly (15%) larger than a microUSB commonly found on Android smartphones, cameras, and printers.
USB-IF prides itself on never obsoleting past USB standards, and this iteration is no different—though an adapter will be required should you wish to plug a Type-C connector to a differently-sized USB port. Word to the wise: as current USB iterations are phased out it means you will need to stock up on adapters to keep your legacy devices operable.
Faster data transfers
Data transfers should, in theory, be reduced by half. This will allow for faster syncing of phones to laptops and speedier data transference between USB memory arrays and computers.
Two-way device charging
In power delivery (USB PD) mode, the USB Type C cables deliver a 100 Watt charge like its predecessor, but the improvement is that the direction of power delivery is no longer fixed—so a phone plugged into a wall charger could also provide power to a tablet, and vice versa if the phone’s adapter is unplugged and the tablet is plugged in.
Power any device from any source
USB PD allows devices networked via USB to adjust power consumption. Say for instance you’re powering a phone with a laptop. The phone draws in as much energy as it needs for the fastest possible charge. Plug in an external USB RAID array into another input, and the RAID will initially draw energy away from the charging phone to get its wheels going, but once it stabilizes and the required energy drops, that energy will be allocated back into charging the phone. USB PD allows this sort of dynamic energy flow between devices. This opens up the possibility for USB docking scenarios.
Adoption in video devices
The USB 3.1 spec can be used beyond what is traditionally the scope of USB by way of an industry term called an Alternate Mode. Without getting too much into the science behind it, Alternate Mode allows other, non-USB data to pass through the USB Type-C connector. The Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA®) announced the development of a DisplayPort Alternate Mode standard for USB Type C, which opens it up for use in video displays. USB Type-C capabilities are robust enough to support 4K video resolution.
The new standard foretells significant steps in the connectivity of next-generation devices. Ubiquity has come to define the reputation of USB technology, which makes it a safe bet that USB Type C will be the go-to standard on new devices sooner than you think, and possibly replace HDMI and power cables in the process.