USB-C cable, compare to Lightning and Micro-USB, specs and Apple’s future.

Lightning USB-C

We’ve been poring over Apple’s change to the 8.4mm by 2.6mm USB Type C standard since we got tipped the design of the new MacBook late last year. It is a big change for Apple and puts the future of longstanding technologies like Thunderbolt and MagSafe into questionable status.  Even Lightning seems a whole lot more vulnerable when an adapter that is marginally bigger, but has the whole industry behind it, shows up in Apple’s future flagship laptop.

Some quick, fun facts on USB Type C that make it pretty amazing:

  • In its current form it can deliver up to 100W (20 volts and 5 amps). That’s more than any current MagSafe adapter including the 85W that the 15″ MacBook Pro uses. Compare that to the Mac Pro at 450W or iPad Air 2’s 12W. USB C could even (and likely will one day) power the 85W Mac mini.
    Perhaps most interesting: USB-C power is reversible. So theoretically, your iPad could charge your Mac! (That doesn’t make up for the MagSafe’s ability to get yanked out and not kill your MacBook).
  • USB Type C can deliver 10 Gbps transfer rate. That’s the same as Thunderbolt 1 and faster than most SSDs by an order of magnitude. This makes the more expensive Thunderbolt almost unnecessary in all but the highest end 2.0 configurations and will likely send it the way of Firewire—an expensive edge technology.
  • New reversible USB Type C will offer full DisplayPort functionality. This kind of kills the “What about Thunderbolt?” argument for the consumer level.  VESA says initial DisplayPort Alt Mode USB Type C devices will use the current DisplayPort 1.2a, which supports 5.4 Gbps per lane and up to 4K (4096 x 2160) resolutions at a 60Hz frame rate. That means we’ll likely see future USB Type C also support the recently announced DisplayPort 1.3 standard that offers a higher 8.1 Gbps per-lane link rate and as a result support for next-gen 5K displays.
  • It is backwards compatible with all of the billions (trillions?) of USB, USB 2, USB 3 devices out there and it is reversible/easy to plug in and almost as small as Micro-USB or Lightning.
  • In hindsight, it seems like a no-brainer.

There will be detractors of the new standard like everything that Apple has done and, in the short term, you’ll need to load up on USB Type C adapters for your devices. The new MacBook should at least come with a DisplayPort/HDMI/VGA and a traditional USB adapter.

Additionally, the aged Thunderbolt Display that Apple currently somehow still offers for $999 might turn into a 4-5K USB-Type C Display. We are already seeing Apple peripheral makers going to USB C including portable flash drives.

USB-Type C options

I would expect Apple to update its MacBook Pros to the new standard as early as WWDC, but the incremental updates to the Pro and Air line this week make me thing it is further away. Also, I haven’t seen a USB-C to Lightning adapter yet.

Nokia N1 with USB Type C

By next year, I would expect all new Macs to have USB Type C. I would expect Apple displays (if they keep doing displays) to be USB-Type C based. I would expect Lightning cables and most of the industry to move that direction too. The question in my mind is: Will Apple keep Lightning or are you looking at the next iPhone connector as well?

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