The future of cables is finally coming and it's god damned fantastic. Welcome to USB Type-C.
By now you've no doubt heard how USB Type-C is the single omni-port on Apple's new MacBook. That and the ensuing outcry of dongle outrage. But don't let that sour you to the idea of USB Type-C because it really is fantastic—at least if you have more than one.
Here is a quick, down-and-dirty primer of what makes USB Type-C so great:
- It's reversible, like Apple's Lightning cable. No more fumbling to plug it in the right way.
- It can transfer data at up to 10 Gbps—i.e. 10 times your crazy Google Fiber connection per second. (If you have Google Fiber, I hate you forever.)
- It can do video. Forget specialized video ports like DisplayPort and HDMI (eventually anyway) because Type-C can do that too. And in both directions. A single cable could carry video from phone to PC or PC to phone. Or to TVs, tablets, you name it.
- It can carry a crapload of power. Depending on the wall-wart you plug your Type-C cable into, it can deliver up to 100w of power. That's enough to charge full-size laptops, not just ones with underpowered processors.
- Like all USBs, Type-C is an open standard. It won't be exclusive to any one company or line of gadgets.
- Type-C is backwards-compatible. You can use with the old ports that are already all around you (if you get an adapter).
- It's tiny. Small enough to make laptops thinner and work its way into phones and tablets.
A USB Type-C port next to USB Type-A ports on the new Chromebook Pixel
It's that last point that's really exciting. Imagine a future where your unruly cable drawer can be condensed down into just a couple of USB Type-C cables. You'll want more than one, of course, but the very same cable could (and almost certainly will) someday charge your phone, your laptop, charge your phone from your laptop, and connect your PC to your external monitor. As someone who's perpetually drowning in a sea of proprietary cables for about a bazillion separate gadgets, I've never been so excited about a port.
That future's still a ways off though. USB Type-C devices have only just started to ship. The new Chromebook Pixel is the first I've seen in person, and so far other announcements have mostly been limited to the new MacBook and a few other randoms.
Of course the change comes with its downsides. It looks like USB Type-C in the new MacBook spells the end of the truly wonderful MagSafe. And even if everyone was to put Type-C in everything starting tomorrow, we'd still have to deal with legacy ports that are all over the place. Fortunately Type-C is backwards compatible, but best case scenario is still a few years of adapter hell. If Type-C doesn't reach a tipping point like Type-A did, there's no guarantee that we'll ever even move past that stage.
A trio of adapters
But just imagine, a few years from now, going on vacation with a laptop, a phone, a tablet, and a single cable to charge them all. A single cable that's easy to replace at any corner store should it break or get lost. Just one cable for all the ports. It's a future that can't come soon enough.