This year, USB Type-C (USB-C) hit the headlines ahead of the launch of the 2015 MacBook. Everyone was talking about the new reversible connector and the fact that it was the only port to make it onto Apple’s latest device. For a while, USB has been seen to be losing ground in the intense competition with Intel’s Thunderbolt, the connection which has arguably been setting the standard in terms of usability and power. USB-C is probably an attempt to address this fact; but, more straightforwardly, it can also be read as a solution to a longstanding frustration with USB connectors, namely the difficulty of knowing whether the connection is the right way round. Since it’s been over a year since the specification for the next generation of USB cables was confirmed, we thought that now would be a good time to take stock by looking back at the early adoption of USB-C.
Nokia N1 Tablet
Unveiled last November, the Nokia N1 tablet was the first device to include the new reversible USB Type-C connector. But despite Nokia’s intention to harness the extra power of USB 3.1, things didn’t quite go to plan, since the N1’s chipset was only able to support USB 2.0 speeds. Sales of the ultra-thin Android device in Asian markets have been encouraging and will be interesting to see how the line develops from here.
The much-hyped relaunch of the MacBook in March this year put the new multi-purpose USB-C squarely on the map. Noticeably slimmer than even the MacBook Air, the new streamlined device features a lone USB-C, which owing to its compatibility and power delivery of the 24-pin connector, doubles as a charging port and a means of transferring data – and also generating additional displays. Notwithstanding the impracticalities of connecting USB peripherals, input devices and additional screens through HDMI or DisplayPort, the significance of the USB Type-C is that it makes such a device possible.
If the N1 suggested some of the teething problems associated with the early adoption of USB-C, the MacBook is a clear indication of its potential. Google’s ChromeBook Pixel, which also launched earlier this year, offers a combination that is perhaps closer to what we should expect from future devices. On the Pixel, connectivity comes in the shape of two USB-C and USB 3.1 ports, a mix which arguably offers users more choice and greater flexibility. This also allows for the addition of a multitude of tablet accessories, which have yet to take on the complete overhaul to a single USB-C connection in line with some of the newer devices, nor are they likely to in the near future. The flexibility of connectivity with tablets perhaps counts for more than the ease and speed of the reversible, powered USB-C.
Apple’s switch to a single USB-C port may have frustrated some, but it also gave a clear indication of the direction of travel. This was further confirmed by the news that Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 uses an identical port design. The transition to and early adoption of USB-C might not be particularly smooth, but the benefits for hardware, throughput and future-proofing are sure to mean that it becomes an increasingly common feature of workplace connectivity. It will be interesting to see whether future upgrades of existing tablets each fall in line with this trend and move towards a single, powered USB-connection point.
Do you own a USB Type-C device? What does the combining of power and data transfer meant for your workflow? Let us know your thoughts via our LinkedIn page.
Images by Maurizio Pesce via Flickr