Apple recently unveiled its newest MacBook Pro, announcing that it would use a single USB Type-C port for power and data transfer. USB Type-C has since been the topic of conversation in the tech world, paving the way for exciting possibilities for improved USB standards and devices.

What is USB Type-C?

Type-C is a new shape of USB connector which is double-sided with 24-pins. It is reversible, a huge improvement to any of us who have once fumbled with plugging a Type-A connector into a port. While Type-C itself is only a change in shape, the excitement lies in the potential for improved standards. The underlying technology of Type-C could be anything from the outdated USB 2.0 to the latest and greatest USB 3.1 and USB Power Delivery (USB PD).

How is USB Type-C Better?

Currently, most devices use USB Type-A, which is bulky and only plugs into a port in one direction. Because Type-A is such a large plug, its ports are equally large. Acceptable for desktop computers, these large ports do not fit on modern, thin laptops, smartphones, tablets and cameras. USB Micro, Mini and Type-B were created to bridge this gap, and while these shapes have worked well in the past, the possibility of a new, universal cable is widely appealing. Type-C is about a third of the size of Type-A, giving it the potential to be used on various devices and thus eliminating the need for a bunch of different cables. Although, having a lot of different cables isn’t quite as revolting if you have a snazzy management system.

What is USB 3.1?

USB 3.1 is the latest standard in speed and power delivery. Plus, Alternate Mode allows the USB cable to be used for various data protocols. Adapters will make it simple to output to HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort and even old USB 2.0. The USB Power Delivery specification increases data rate to 10 Gbits/s and power delivery to 100 watts (as a benchmark, USB 2.0 had a data rate of 480 Mbits/s and power delivery of up to 2.5 watts!). Additionally, this specification is bi-directional and can provide power while transferring data at the same time. So in theory, if you plugged your laptop into an external hard drive which was plugged into the wall, you could charge your laptop via the external hard drive plugged in with a Type-C connection all the while transferring data. To be able to accomplish this, however, the devices and cables would need to support USB PD.

USB 3.1 is backwards compatible with 3.0 and 2.0– good news for the first few years of switching to a new standard. Adapters will allow Type-C to be used with outdated cables, making the transition smoother. It should be noted that while the shape of Type-C itself isn’t backwards compatible (it will not fit into an old Type-A port, for example), the technology itself is.


USB Type-C is small, fast, high powered and can work with anything if you have the right adapter.