USB-C has become a ubiquitous port in today’s electronics, and I have personally witnessed its spread from my 2016 MacBook Pro to almost all of my devices. I was hopeful that Apple would introduce a USB-C iPhone back in 2018 when they added it to the iPad Pro, and my optimism grew in 2021 when they brought USB-C to lower-end iPads. Now, with the launch of the iPhone 15 models, Apple has finally built USB-C into their smartphones and earbuds.
Having a USB-C iPhone is a dream come true for me, as it allows for a more streamlined charging experience. However, there is a downside to using USB-C. The confusion surrounding the capabilities of the port and the cables that come with it can be quite frustrating. It’s not always clear whether a device or cable supports high-speed data transfer, fast charging, or both.
While Apple didn’t disclose the speed of the USB-C port during their launch event, it has been revealed that the iPhone 15 will transfer data at a mere 480 megabits per second, equivalent to the slow USB 2.0 standard from 2000. On the other hand, the iPhone 15 Pro models will support the faster 10Gbps speed of USB 3.
For most people, this might not be a major inconvenience. However, it highlights the challenges of the USB ecosystem, where cost-cutting is prioritized and certification is not required. USB-C is a superior connection technology compared to Apple’s previous Lightning port, but the transition comes with its fair share of difficulties.
The USB-C confusion stems from the fact that USB refers to three separate standards. The original USB standard, Universal Serial Bus, governs data transfer and has gone through several iterations, with USB 4 being the most recent and fastest version. USB-C, on the other hand, is the oval-shaped connector technology, and newer models generally support higher speeds.
Lastly, USB PD (Power Delivery) governs charging capabilities and can provide power up to 240 watts. While most devices don’t require that much power, it is crucial that they can negotiate the charging process effectively.
The multitude of standards and the lack of certification make it challenging to fully understand the capabilities of devices and cables. Many manufacturers skip the certification process to cut costs and expedite product shipments. This further complicates the issue and makes it difficult for consumers to ensure they are getting reliable and high-performance USB-C products.
One rule of thumb is that cables labeled as “charging cables” usually don’t support high-speed data transfer. These cables are mainly intended for charging purposes. Additionally, cheaper cables may not be able to support the fast data rates or high-power charging.
While the slow cable problem may not affect everyone, it can become an inconvenience in certain situations. Slow data transfer speeds can significantly hinder tasks like transferring large photo and video files from devices. Those who shoot 4K ProRes video may find a faster cable essential.
Apple’s decision to ship the iPhone 15 with a USB 2.0 cable is likely an attempt to not overwhelm or confuse customers. Currently, they offer two options: slow charging cables and expensive Thunderbolt cables that support faster speeds.
Fortunately, there are affordable USB-C cables available in the market that can support higher data transfer rates. It is essential to check the specifications carefully and ensure the cables meet the required standards. While future-proofing is important, it’s important to note that newer USB versions and Thunderbolt 5 will require faster speeds.
Personally, I prefer purchasing USB-C products that have passed compliance testing and display the USB-IF certification. Brands like Anker, Plugable, Satechi, and Monoprice offer reliable cables that I have used for years.
In conclusion, USB-C is a remarkable technology that has revolutionized the way we charge and transfer data on our devices. However, it is not without its challenges. The confusion surrounding its capabilities and the proliferation of uncertified products make it necessary for consumers to be diligent in their research and ensure they are getting the right cables and devices for their needs. With careful consideration and attention to specifications, USB-C can provide an excellent user experience and streamline our digital lives.