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The USB-C Revolution

The technology revolution is in full flow. As quickly as technologies are being discovered, honed, and improved, new developments are being made to replace them. The heavy focus from governments and the public on environmental factors are no doubt fueling the revolution as technology markets battle to produce energy efficient, environmentally friendly (or friendlier) alternatives to combat technologies that are having a detrimental impact. This is most true with technology charging and/or syncing cables, and in particular USB (Universal Serial Bus).

USB-C has become standard with today’s ‘everyday’ technologies; smartphones, laptops, desktops, etc. But what about USB-C makes it the dominant choice with tech companies and developers? Although the revolutionary USB-A did a lot to standardise and unify electronic connectors, ridding us of redundant ports such as Pentium, PS/2, Mini DisplayPort, etc, it still had its limitations. When USB 1.0 and 1.1 were introduced back in the 1990s it had a maximum transfer rate of 12 megabits per second (https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/blog/usb-the-one-port-revolution/). Today USB-A 3.1 has a maximum transfer rate of 10 gigabits per second which is considered very fast by today’s standards, but the connector is still frustratingly clunky and not in keeping with more modern connector designs such as Apple’s Lightning charger or even the micro-USB. It’s one-sided (can’t fit in port when upside down) and will never be suitable to power something as powerful as a laptop.
Here’s where USB-C comes in; as well as a far sleeker and superior design which allows for the connector to be plugged in either way up, USB-C offers the same speeds and/or better than USB-A 3.1. It can also transfer power as well as data, currently as much as 240 watts are being reported in development (but more commonly up to 100 watts), meaning that USB-C will soon, not just power lighter laptops and tablets but will even replace the power brick that more substantial portable computers rely on. There’s even been leaks from Intel suggesting that they are developing a USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 5) that will offer 80 gigabits per second transfer rates, twice the rate of the fastest on the market currently (USB4 models) which is expected to be available early 2022.
The technology goal with the USB-C is that there will be one cable that universally connects, sends data and charges all devices. There will eventually be no need for alternative cables, which in theory will make all tech far more simplified but also reduce the need to throw away old, redundant cables. More recently Apple has joined the USB-C revolution by adding USB Type-C connector ports to their Mac and MacBook products and, more recently, adapted their charging ports on the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iPad Pro to USB-C from traditional Apple MagSafe or lightning ports. Apple continue to drag their heels with converting charging ports on their iPhones favoring their traditional lightning design or, more recently, MagSafe wireless charging. However, while wireless charging is still painfully slow by comparison to standard wired methods, the USB-C future appears limitless. Finally, if the EU manage to pass legislation to force manufacturers to use USB-C to be the universal standard charging cable for all tech such as smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, etc, then companies like Apple will need to do away with alternative charging options (Lightning and micro-USB) and conform to this singular design. While Apple have hit back at this proposal, saying it would “harm innovation”, there can be little argument that electronic waste, such as redundant charging cables, contribute massively to the detrimental affect on the environment and stricter measures will no-doubt be seen in force over the coming years.
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