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  December 11, 2014

The Reversible USB Type-C Cables Bring Connectors to a Completely New Level


It’s been months since the new USB Type-C cable has been announced and, ever since, many of its features have been gradually revealed and talked about. Before going into a more detailed analysis, we should have a brief look at this new device’s main features:

  • USB Type-C connectors have been designed to be used with thinner types of devices
  • Since they are reversible, they will practically work similarly to Apple’s Lightning cables
  • Foxconn, the well-known Taiwanese manufacturer, was in charge of this new product’s design
  • For older devices, users will need a special adapter if they wish to use this new Type-C plug

How does the Reversible USB Type-C Cable work?

Connectors have gone a long way since the USB 2.0 spec. was first released back in 2000 and, by the end of 2001, it had already become the standard connector type. In 2008, the new USB 3.0 was released and followed, in 2013, by the innovative USB 3.1. Now it is time for the new Type-C USB connector to shine and open the path for future improved versions.

Designed specifically to be used with sleeker devices, such as ultra-books, smartphones and tablets, the new connector was created starting from the USB 2.0 and USB 3.1 technologies. Similar to Lightning, the connector introduced by Apple to work with the iPhone and iPads models, this device will work no matter how the user plugs it in. Smaller than standard laptop connectors, the reversible Type-C USB cables are similar to the actual size of Micro USB plugs. Since this new design is somewhat different from the standard versions of USB plugs, adapters are necessary if users plan to use it with older types of equipment.

According to Brad Saunders, the chairman of the group in charge of promoting this device, the plug was developed to enable sleeker and thinner product designs, thus enhancing their usability and providing an innovative path for future USB performance enhancements.

USB Type-C connectors and their ability to also support video and audio DisplayPorts

The new reversible Type-C connectors are also able to support the DisplayPort Alternate Mode, providing screen resolutions of 4k and even above that. Video Electronics Standards Association announced that the new USB Type-C connector will not only be able to carry 4K video signals, but it will also be able to carry SuperSpeed USB data simultaneously and even 100 watts of power. The DisplayPort Alt Mode can even support a high screen resolution -without simultaneous data, – and adapters that can provide standard DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, and VGA displays.

Though the USB Type-C cable is still to hit the market, it is already positioned and designed to replace the USB Type-A plug legacy, a connector that has been acknowledged as an industry standard for more than a decade now.


If Apple decides not to embrace this innovative USB Type-C specification, there are high chances for the company to introduce on the market its much rumoured 12-inch MacBook Air, which features a high-resolution Retina display. Rumours claimed that Apple is currently developing a new type of laptop, which will feature an entirely innovative and much thinner form factor, thinness which might necessitate an immediate switch to a smaller USB Type-C connector.

For this specific purpose, Jack March adds to the already existing speculations and states that the 12-inch MacBook Air, endowed with a Retina display, – which Apple is currently supposed to be working on – will be shipped with a reversible USB Type-C port. In addition, the company is planning to include an adapter into the box, thus ensuring the backwards compatibility with all the standard USB devices. According to anonymous sources, it is also questionably suggested that Apple will get rid of the MagSafe port and plans to charge the new ultraportable notebook completely differently.

When and IF Apple does decide to support these new USB Type-C connectors, these ports could drive video output to already existing DisplayPort gadgets by making use of a reversible Type-C USB cable to the DisplayPort converter. This way, those video source gadgets which support the DisplayPort Alt Mode through USB Type-C connectors will also be able to use an adaptor to drive DVI, VGA or HDMI displays. All the compatible cables will thus comply with the USB Type-C spec., including the reversible orientation.

According to Jeff Ravencraft, the president and COO of USB-IF, the USB Type-C spec. was specifically developed to provide users with a robust type of connector, suitable for virtually everything: from PCs to mobile devices, and, if and when compounded with the USB Power Delivery or the SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps, it will truly provide one single cable solution that will successfully and efficiently meet the needs of the whole market. Jeff Ravencraft also stated that USB-IF is also currently working on developing the guidelines of the joint port identification. The collaboration with VESA will ensure clients are able to actually recognize when a USB Type-C device can support the DisplayPort Alt Mode.

The DisplayPort Alt Mode transmits video on only one or maybe two of each cable’s available lanes (i.e. 1 or 2 out of the 4 available lanes). The remaining two lanes can thus be used for transferring SuperSpeed USB data at a speed of up to 10 Gbps in both directions.

The DisplayPort over USB 3.1, which also features simultaneous data transfer, is able to support 4K ultra-HD pictures, with an amazing resolution (i.e. 3,840 by 2,160 pixels). What’s more, if the user devotes all the four lanes to video, the USB Type-C connector will be able to drive a monitor with a 5K resolution, or even one of 5,120 by 2,880 pixels.

According to rumours, Apple is currently focusing on 5K resolutions for all its future products, which includes the all-in-one iMac desktop. The signs of a possible Retina display for iMac were first hinted at in June, when Apple released the beta version of OS X 10.10 Yosemite, with a screen resolution that can reach up to approx. 6,400 by 3,600 pixels.

As time passes by and more details are released, this innovative Type-C USB cable is slowly turning into the Holy Grail of all cords.