I've fallen in love with a USB connector

Plugs, sockets and ports are weird. You can virtually guarantee that when you buy a new thing, whether it’s something ordinary like a phone or a laptop or something mundane like a power drill — it’ll come with some kind of cable in the box.

For years, we had cables hardwired to a standard three-pin plug on one end — you know, the one you put in your wall — and on the other it was anyone’s guess. It seemed like every device came with its own bespoke cable, specifically designed so that if and when it broke, you’d have to fork out for an expensive replacement.

Then manufacturers realised they could put USB Type-A ports on the plugs; meaning that you could replace the cable without replacing the plug. You might not know they’re called USB Type-A ports, but you do know what they look like. They’re everywhere. They’re more likely than not on your tablet or laptop, or your phone plug. Some wall sockets even come with them built in nowadays.

On the other end of that cable though, it remains anyone’s guess as to what might be there. Whilst many devices have now standardised around USB Type Micro-B connectors1 on the other end of that cable, some manufacturers are still churning out devices with USB Type Mini-B connectors — wrecklessly clinging to an outdated connection. And then there’s also “Lightning” connectors which can be found on a range of Apple devices, including the iPad, AirPods, iPhone and even Apple’s wireless keyboards and mice. It’s a total mess; but change is possible, and it’s coming. It’s coming on both ends of the cable.

It’s called USB Type-C. It’s a single, small, reversible port that can power everything from phones, tablets and headphones, to even larger items like laptops and monitors all using the same cable. Certain devices and cables can allow video and data transfer at the same time too. With some devices you can “daisy chain” devices together as well, meaning you can plug a cable into something like a monitor, and a second monitor into the first and power both monitors from your laptop — no other cables needed.

This is the future and it is glorious!

It’s glorious because it’s so practical. It means you only ever need to take one plug and one cable with you when you’re heading away for a few days. It means everything plugs into everything else without having to figure out which way around the cables go.

Now, it’s not perfect right now: it’s hard to tell whether a cable is properly compatible with everything I’ve listed above. It’s equally difficult to find good quality cables, and there have been some early horror stories about risking cheap ones. Those things are to be expected with a new standard, and for early adopters like me.

Like I said: it’s the future, and I just hope it gets here a bit quicker! Make no mistake: you will start to see USB-C in more places soon enough and you’ll love it, because it just works!

  1. You know those ones too; they’re the tiny ones you plug into most phones, or Kindles that snap like twigs if you put even a little pressure on them whilst they’re plugged in.