USB Type-C Computing Devices Soar, Vendors & Suppliers Pressured for Accessories

If you are in the market for a high-end smartphone, or tablet chances are, unless it is made by Apple, you’ll be getting a device with a USB Type-C connector. Many of the high-end laptops from top manufacturers, including the new line of Apple's Macbooks and iMacs, also feature the new interface.

USB Type-C macbook custom cable assembly

A few devices with USB Type-C have been in the market for over two years. Mass adoption, however, didn’t start until a few months ago. Research firm IHS expects that over 500,000 USB Type-C devices will be shipped this year, rising to two million by 2019.

USB Type-C is the most advanced computing interface in the market and the only wired connection a device needs, since it can replace virtually every other connector. It can transfer data, audio, video, and sound, and is compatible with Apple’s Thunderbolt. It can also deliver 100 watts of charging power to a mobile phone or tablet.

As a rising number of new computing devices incorporate the new connector, accessory manufacturers are trying to catch up. The industry, however, cannot meet the demand, since power users are looking for new accessories that take advantage of the new standard.

When Apple introduced the new Macbook, a USB Type-C hub was announced on Kickstarter and raised $883,460 within a month. The $125 hub, designed to match Apple’s line, was a necessity since the Macbook features only one USB connector and cannot be powered at the same time as using any external device. New, inexpensive, hubs have appeared in the market since.

As new models of faster thinner laptops, so called ultrabooks, appear in the market from many first-tier manufacturers, they incorporate the latest technologies to reduce size and weight, and increase performance. My recent purchase of an Asus chromebook flip comes with only three connecting ports: one headset+mic combo and two USB Type-C, which handle all the other connectivity needs.

In order to connect my laptop to my android phone which uses micro USB, or to a USB thumb drive, or my external monitor, I had to purchase additional adapters.

Some accessory manufacturers are solving the issue by including the adapter with the device. This is the case with external hard drives and some high-end monitors. Many new thumb drives are starting to feature two connectors, the new Type-C and the old Type-A USB plug.

Third-party charging adapters and cables pose additional problems. USB Type-C specs allow for up to 100 watts of power delivered to a device, but the cable and the transformer should be able to communicate with the mobile device properly to deliver the right amount of power. USB Type-C port controllers should provide overvoltage protection of up to 22 V for the configuration channel (CC) pins and up to 28 V for the VBUS pins. While it will probably be safe to power a laptop with the USB Type-C charger of a tablet, although slow, I wouldn’t connect the charger of my laptop to a smartphone until I’m absolutely sure it won’t fry the battery or the transformer. Currently almost all manufacturers insist that only the original charger should be used to power the device.

To illustrate this problem, Benson Leung, a Google engineer on the Chromebook Pixel team, started buying USB Type-C cables on Amazon in 2015 and testing them. What he found is at least worrisome: Some of the specifications in a cable may be way off. In some bad cables, incorrect resistor values could change completely and affect the operation of the device. The situation has improved, but there is no guarantee that a generic cable will not damage a device.

For the purposes of data transfer only, any generic cable will work just fine. If you plan to use the cable to transfer data from your external HD or a Flash Drive, most cables will work.

It will probably take another year for accessory manufacturers to catch up, and it is in their best interest to rush to this new lucrative market. Consumers purchasing mobile devices featuring the new USB Type-C connectors are buying expensive units, usually flagship smartphones or ultralight computers, and are willing to pay extra for devices specifically made to take full advantage of the new interface.

If you have paid over $500 for a new smartphone or $1,000 or more for your laptop, don't try to save $10 by

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