What is USB-C? Technical terms explained

USB-C stands for USB Type C. It comes from the guys who gave us the original USB technology. To understand in the most simplest and accurate terms, it is a type of connector or type of connection.

But USB C is much more than that. So in this article we shall try to explain all aspects of this connector without creating much confusion.

Advantages of USB-C

As a connector, USB-C is aiming for global acceptance. These are the reasons why.

  • It can be used up or down. Flippable.
  • USB C cable looks the same from both ends. Plus it can be used upwards as well as backwards.
  • Like it’s predecessors, it can transmit both power as well as data on the same wire.
  • One of the key features of USB-C is power delivery. Earlier version used to carry enough power just to activate and run the slave. But now power can run both directions and even charge a laptop.
  • Thunderbolt technology is now available through USB-C.
  • USB 4 is only available as USB C connection.
  • USB-C ports are ready to send and receive data, power, video as well as audio. The device manufacturer can choose which technology to use.
  • USB Type C is truly universal.

Identification in Pictures

USB made our life easier in 1996 when USB 1.0 devices came on the scene. By 2001, USB 2.0 came into existence with higher data transfer speed. Ten years later, USB 3.0 was introduced with an distinguishing blue colour.

Above picture is of a USB hub for Macbook Pro laptop. The blue colour port is USB supporting USB 3.0 devices and speed. Next to it on the left is the USB C port.

USB 4 (USB-C in disguise)

Agreed upon and released in 2019, USB 4 is aimed at converging all technologies at one point. First it incorporated the Intel and Apple developed thunderbolt protocol so that it can be backward compatible with previous versions of thunderbolt as well as USB. Along with that came support for Display port too. The key takeaway point here is that the shape of connector now used for thunderbolt 3 & 4 and USB 4 will be the same, that is USB C.

Macbook Air now comes with just two USB-C ports (2020 version). But that is more than sufficient because by using a single hub you can connect any devices of various ports. And USB-C is compatible with all of them.

Small size of USB-C port and connector means that it can fit in the smallest of places. Mobile phone manufacturers were quick to adopt it for charging and data transfer. In fact the rush for slim smart phone was fuelled by this and smartphone moved from micro USB to USB C.

Lighting port of iPhones

Apple continues to stick to the good old lightning port for charging the iPhone. It must have been a hard decision because while the world moves to USB C Apple has to cater for its old customers with earlier devices.

The 2021 version of iPhone 13 still carries the lightning port for charging and data transfer. The launch of iPhone 13 threw up with some surprises. In its continued commitment to reduce the carbon footprint, there is no charger in the box. Apple expects their customers to use to old charger or buy a new one if required. This will help smaller packaging which will enable Apple to ship more units in the same consignment space. It will also help in less mining of precious metals. What is interesting though is that they have included the USB Type C to lightning cable. Apple has also removed the plastic wrapping over the box which has contributed saving of 600 tons of plastic.

Either Apple will shift to USB Type C to comply with the new EU regulations which essentially means that all phone will have this connector only, or they will migrate to completely wireless charging.

Power Delivery and Ultra thin Laptops

USB 2 gave a power output of 0.5A and USB 3 increased it to 0.9A. That was just enough to charge mobile phones. Laptops missed the bus. USB Type C pushes the power all the way to 100W. It gives two options of current, 1.5A and 3A.

This has enabled laptop and notebook manufacturers to do away with the power plug and circular sockets. USB C connectors are provided both for data transfer as well as charging.


Does this look like a laptop from the future. No it is a Macbook Air 2020 version with the M1 chip. It has just two USB C ports which can be used for charging as well as data transfer. Thin and light laptops have done away with rotation disks and replaced them with SSDs. USB C has enabled them to create thin laptops without any fans making them silent and efficient.

Technology can be so overwhelming that a few gadgets can bring in a clutter of wires and their chargers. Interconnecting and figuring out which goes where. USB C is a technology in the right direction which helped Apple remove the charger from their box and took away clunky adapters away from laptops.

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