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How USB-C compares with USB 3.1

13 July 2018

There's lots of different types and standards for USB these days, but what do they all mean? What's USB-C and what's USB 3.1?

The USB, or Universal Serial Bus, has been a staple in the electronics world since 1996, when its first iteration, USB 1.0, was released. This technology was pretty revolutionary at the time: it could move an ambitious 12 Mbit/s, which at the time was an extraordinary feat. Since then, USB has taken over the digital world. You’ll find it in desktops, laptops, phones, cameras, tablets, and even furniture, cup warmers, and plasma balls.

Since its original conception, there’s been a huge variety of succeeding versions. The most common is Type-A, which can be found in every variety of computer for the last 25 years or so. There’s also USB Type-B, which is most commonly found in printers. Now, there’s micro and mini variants of both A and B, in addition to 4 pin and 5 pin variations.

Different types of USB have different purposes, but are there too many? In an ideal world, we’d have one singular USB that encompasses all prior versions, but is this available? Well, almost.

Let’s take a look at the types that try to solve the problem of having too many options: USB 3.1 and USB Type-C (or USB-C).

USB 3.1 and USB-C, what's the difference?

The two newest versions of USB, 3.1 and Type-C came into production at around the same time in 2013 and 2014, because of this, many people often confuse them, considering them to be the same thing. However, they’re different in important ways.

USB 3.1 is a standard, in the same way that Types-1, 2 and 3 were the standards that came before it. In contrast, USB-C is a type, in the same way that mini-USB and micro-USB are different types (connector variations) of the USB standard. Put another way, if USB-C is a pipe, then USB 3.1 is one of the things that can flow through it. This also works with older standards of USB: you can have, for example, USB 3.1 flowing through a USB-B cable, or USB Type-2 flowing through a USB-A cable.

Like Types-A and B, the name USB-C somewhat describes the shape of the port itself.

USB-C is small, thin, and flat and is the same port at both ends. The format may be small, but the implications are big: USB-C promises to be the one cable that really can do everything, and that can eventually replace mini, micro, A and B.

USB-C is also unidirectional, which means you’ll no longer find yourself repeatedly turning the USB connector over until it finally fits. It’s also backwards compatible all the way to USB 2.0, and with the right adaptor, it’ll even work alongside A, B, Mini and Micro.

The future adoption of Type-C is very likely to be driven by the relentless need for smaller and thinner devices. And because USB-C's four data lanes transfer audio and video, it could finally do away with conventional 3.5mm jacks —whilst providing a superior digital alternative in the process. This is a switch we've already started to see in a number new smartphones, though to some initial backlash and reluctance from those not yet willing to give up their beloved 3.5mm jacks.

The future of USB

So, what does the future hold for USB? Well, because you can use USB 3.1 via a USB-C Cable, in that it flows through it, USB-C may well become the dominant standard in future technologies.

When a USB-C connection meets a USB 3.1 port, you get all the benefits of both — namely convenience. That tiny cable has enough power to charge a full-sized laptop, which can prove appealing to those wanting lightweight and convenient connectivity. Plus, the data transfer capabilities of USB-C could render a whole range of audio and visual cables obsolete — be prepared to say an eventual goodbye to the widespread use of HDMI, DisplayPort, 3.5mm, and so on.

However, because of how new USB 3.1 and USB-C are, it’s still more expensive for manufacturers to implement them into new devices. And, thanks to backward compatibility in the USB format, we may have to wait a while longer before we see them being adopted by the majority of technology. But it’s coming.

Technology that adopts USB-C will help to bring about the change, which will ultimately push us in the direction of having just one USB cable in the future. Our Dock E30 has USB-C, providing connectivity for every user, in addition to Qi wireless charging, Airsound technology, and a host of other state of the art features. If you’d like to find out more about the revolutionary speaker, head over here.

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