The ‘C’ in USB-C is for confusion (but you’ll adjust)


The new MacBook will be the first Apple product to feature a USB-C port. Photo: Apple

The shiny new watch on Tim Cook’s wrist wasn’t the item that tipped Apple’s hand as it bets on the future of computing.

The really big development was what wasn’t in the room: multiple ports on the new ultrathin MacBook.

The future lies in a single port for powering the device and seemingly not much else. It’s called USB-C. And the “C,” for now, stands for confusion.

USB-C is not another Apple attempt at building a proprietary connector (like it did with MagSafe or Lightning). USB-C is soon to become an industry standard and Apple is among the first to transition with a new product utilizing it.

“The Type-C plug is a big step forward,” Jeff Ravencraft, chairman of the USB Implementer Forum, told Computer World last year. “It might be confusing at first during the transition, but the Type-C plug could greatly simplify things over time by consolidating and replacing the larger USB connectors.”

Maybe we should think of the “C” as consolidation. Here’s why we will quickly and happily adjust, in un-wonky terms:

It’s a single connection for everything: The new MacBook’s USB-C port will support video connections (HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA, but not Thunderbolt or the ancient FireWire) as well as handling USB and power connections.

It goes both ways: USB-C attempts to consolidate computing activities with a bi-directional cord, meaning power goes both ways. You can charge other devices by plugging them into your laptop or you can charge your computer by plugging into the wall or another power source.

It’s always right-side up: Like Apple’s Lightning plug, there’s no top or bottom to USB-C cables or ports. Happily, this will eliminate the hassle of figuring out which side is up. Just slide it in and you’re golden.

It’s more powerful: USB-C delivers extra juice, topping out at 100 watts, meaning you could power devices and have enough to run hubs and displays.

It’s faster: USB-C cables transfer data faster than their predecessors. It’s USB 3.1, so theoretically it could deliver data twice as fast as USB 3.0 cables — a top speed of 10 gigabits per second — although Apple says the MacBook’s port will max out at half that, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s backward-compatible (with an adapter): Those adapters — like USB-C to HDMI, USB-C to VGA and, of course, USB-C to USB — will be a necessary evil until all our peripheral devices move to the new standard or go wireless. Apple has a number of adapters in its store and Sandisk makes a 32GB flash drive with a USB-C connector.


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