Wednesday, December 04, 2013

USB 3.1 to include orientation-agnostic connector for both ends of the cable

When Apple introduced its Lightning connector, there was criticism by some over the need for a new specification. Why, critics asked, did Apple simply not use a microUSB connector, eliminating the need for new cables, new docks, and more "entries" into landfills. It did have one nice feature though: It was reversible, and that is something many applauded. It appears the USB 3.0 Promoter Group has noticed (via The Verge, on Wednesday).

The next generation of USB -- USB 3.1, actually -- will feature a new connector, called Type-C. According to the group, Type-C will be around the size of a microUSB plug. Like the Apple Lightning connector, it will be reversible -- or rather, bidirectional. It won't matter which direction you insert the connector into the port.

The bidirectional Type-C connector is an addition to the existing USB 3.1. The supplement specification is expected to be finalized by the middle of 2014. USB 3.1 is an enhancement to USB 3.0 that will raise USB's speed to 10Gbps, on par with Thunderbolt.

However, earlier this year, Intel announced Thunderbolt 2. Thunderbolt 2 will combine the first generation Thunderbolt's 10Gbps unidirectional channels into a single bidirectional channel, achieving 20Gbps speeds.

In a press release, USB 3.0 Promoter Group chairman Brad Saunders said that the Type-C connector will aid non-Apple manufacturers in the same way Lightning assisted Apple, by reducing the size of the connector. It will, he said:
[...] help enable thinner and sleeker product designs, enhance usability and provide a growth path for performance enhancements for future versions of USB.
Meanwhile, said Alex Peleg, Vice President of the Platform Engineering Group at Intel -- which as noted above is behind Lightning -- said:
Intel is excited to see the development of the new thin Type-C connector as it will enable an entirely new super thin class of devices from phones to tablets, to 2-in-1s, to laptops to desktops and a multitude of other more specific usage devices. This new industry standards-based thin connector delivering data, power and video is the only connector one will need across all devices.
While the reversible connector is one thing that already exists in Apple's Lightning connection, Type-C goes further. It is meant to replace both ends of a cable, as the press release says:
[ ...] users will no longer need to be concerned with plug orientation/cable direction, making it easier to plug in.
That's right; both ends of the cable will have the same connector.

Naturally, this will (probably) mean that the USB 3.0 Promoter Group will also have to create a specification for adapters and cables so that the USB chargers out there aren't immediately turned into landfill. Considering the current reach of USB, that would be a far greater amount of landfill additions than Lightning created.

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