New USB spec brings faster data speeds and reversible plugs, but you’ll need new adapters

USB 3-1 Type C

USB cables in the near future will be easier to use, and they’ll also let you transfer data between devices at much faster speeds. The USB 3.0 Promoter Group, comprised of partner companies that helped develop the latest USB spec, introducedĀ a new USB Type-C connector on Tuesday. Like most maturing standards, USB Type-C ports and cables will bring benefits, although there’s one caveat I’ll get to shortly.

USB Type C

On the plus side, using USB Type-C equipment will bring transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps thanks to USB 3.1. They also support greater power to connected devices: Up to 100 watts, which theoretically means you could recharge or power a laptop device over USB. The physical connector is small and thin enough for charging smartphones as well, as it’s roughly the same size as the current Type-B; more commonly known as microUSB.

The USB 3.0 Promoter Group suggests that USB Type-C is effectively the only cable we’ll need going forward due to its speed and power capabilities:

“The release of the USB Type-C specification is the final piece in developing a single-cable solution. The combination of SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps and USB Power Delivery up to 100W with the slim, user-friendly USB Type-C connector provides endless possibilities. An ideal example use case is a docking solution that features a single USB Type-C cable connection to dock and power your PC, and a hub within the dock that can connect multiple screens streaming video with additional bandwidth available for many other functions.”

Like Apple’s Lightning connector the new Type-C cables are reversible, meaning it won’t matter which way you insert a new USB cable into the new USB ports.

Now about that caveat: Unlike prior USB standards, the new Type-C connector isn’t backwards compatible with existing USB ports:

“The new USB Type-C plug and receptacle will not directly mate with existing USB plugs and receptacles (Type-A, Type-B, Micro-B, etc.); however, the USB Type-C specification defines passive new-to-existing cables and adapters to allow consumers to use the new connector with their existing products.”

That means as device makers transition to the Type-C spec, we’ll be buying adapters and unique cables to use new and old USB devices together. Hopefully the transition is over before the next USB spec comes out and we have to transition all over again. After all, it was just three years ago Europe mandated microUSB as the standard to charge phones.

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