From messy USB-C cable types to problematic fast charging, the “one cable to rule them all” is still struggling to truly become universal.
USB-C is one of the most popular types of cable in the world, but this “universal” cable has a few key issues that need to be resolved. From messy USB-C cable types to problematic fast charging, the world’s “one cable to rule them all” is still struggling to truly become universal.
Shutterstock image of smartphone with USB-C cable.
If USB-C is going to be a truly universal cable, it will need to overcome these challenges.
1. USB-C isn’t actually standardized.
One of the most commonly praised benefits of USB-C cables is that users always know what they’re getting with USB-C. Any device that accepts USB-C cables can use any USB-C cable, right?
Unfortunately, this is not true. USB-C is not actually standardized, at least not at this level of universality.
There are several USB-C cable types that differ from each other in terms of data speed, power capabilities, and compatibility. Users can often confuse USB-C for specific types of data speed, such as USB 3.0. A USB-C cable certainly can be a USB 3.0 cable, but this isn’t always the case.
The same is true for the types of data a USB-C cable is capable of transferring. Some USB-C cable types can replace display cables, for example. This is not true for all USB-C cables, though. It is often hard to tell just from looking at a cable what specific USB-C cable type it is, whereas with older cables like USB-A, users know exactly what they’re getting just from looking at the cable.
2. USB-C cable types are confusing.
The lack of standardization creates the next problem: complete confusion about USB-C cable types. As mentioned above, there are no real standards for exactly what a USB-C cable is capable of doing. There are minimum requirements, but these simply establish basic functionality.
The result of the lack of standardization has led to a plethora of completely different, yet “universal,” USB-C cable types. Every device manufacturer that uses USB-C will have a totally different cable that ships with their products. Buying a new cable for those products could be a nightmare and may even be dangerous.
For example, laptops require much more power than a smartphone, so they need a higher-quality cable type capable of supporting that larger power transfer. As a result, experts stress that users should never charge a laptop with a low-power USB-C cable. Unfortunately, many users may not even notice or understand the difference between different USB-C cable types.
3. USB-C cable fast charging is a mess.
USB-C cable fast-charge capabilities were originally one of the greatest strengths of this cable. Unfortunately, fast charging has become mired in confusion and paranoia that is holding back the technology. Many consumers today are worried that fast charging will ruin their phone’s battery or possibly even cause the phone to explode or catch on fire.
These fears are mostly misconceptions. Modern smartphones with fast-charging capabilities are designed to be able to use that fast-charging feature completely safely. Every manufacturer has different tactics, such as splitting the battery in the phone into two smaller batteries.
However, fast-charge fears essentially eliminate one of the great benefits of USB-C, which is fast power transfer. To make matters worse, the above-mentioned confusing cable types can leave users anxious that they aren’t using the right cable for fast charging. If people remain too worried to actually use fast charging, USB-C will lose some of its appeal as a one-size-fits-all cable.
4. PCs still lack USB-C ports.
The fact that many personal computers lack USB-C ports in the 2020s is shocking, especially considering some USB-C cable types are capable of replacing larger, older cables like HDMI and VGA cables. Some PCs and Macs have adopted USB-C cable support, but this is mostly present on laptops. Even when support is included, it is often limited to one, maybe two, ports.
However, built-in USB-C ports are hard to come by on desktop PCs. Even for users who want to build their own gaming PC and customize all their parts, finding a motherboard or a case with a USB-C port may be challenging. This makes it practically useless for USB-C cables to have the capability to do things like replace a clunky display cable.
If no one can find a PC that has a single USB-C port, why bother switching from a much more widely compatible display cable? Until USB-C ports become a standard feature on PCs, it will be difficult for USB-C cables to become the universal king of the cables.
5. The iPhone doesn’t use USB-C.
Apple’s relationship with the USB-C cable type is a sticky issue but an important one. Apple does use USB-C in its iPads and Macs but persists in excluding it from the iPhone lineup. The iPhone is the undisputed most popular line of smartphones — possibly even personal electronics in general — in the world. As long as this massively popular product family continues to use Apple’s Lightning cable, there will always be a competitor for USB-C cable types.
There are a few reasons why Apple doesn’t use USB-C cables. Fans of USB-C cable fast charge are annoyed by the design choice, for obvious reasons. Originally, though, Apple went with the Lightning cable because there wasn’t a small, fast cable around to fit their needs when the iPhone 5 was released. iPads and Macs didn’t have this problem, so they got USB-C when it came out.
The iPhone was left in a complicated position because, at this point, switching to USB-C would force millions of iPhone users to get all-new accessories and chargers. As a result, the Lightning cable remains USB-C’s biggest competitor in the smartphone industry.
Will USB-C cables ever be universal?
USB-C is not yet the universal or perfect cable for every electronic device. Confusing cable types and compatibility issues mean the universal form factor of USB-C doesn’t match up with the non-universal capabilities of other cables. Plus, a lack of support from popular devices like PCs and iPhones makes it difficult for this cable type to gain universal adoption. If USB-C is ever going to truly be a universal cable, developers need to face these issues.
About the author
Emily Newton is a technical writer and the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized. She enjoys researching and writing about how technology is changing the industrial sector.