USB-C is a total dumpster fire because we want it to do too much too quickly

USB-C is what you end up with when you try to get a single cable to do too much across too many devices by cobbling together different standards.

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James Martin, CNET

Over the weekend, developer and tech writer Marco Arment put into words how many in the tech world have been feeling about the USB-C standard.

Must read: Here's why your old iPhone feels slow -- and what you can do about it

Arment points out many of the ways that USB-C is broken.

  • How some support USB protocols when it comes to speed, and others Thunderbolt (the USB-C ports on one side of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar are different to the ones on the other side).
  • How some cables support Thunderbolt, and others do not.
  • Port shortages on newer devices (especially when one is tied up with charging).
  • Dongle mess.
  • Lack of USB-C hubs that add more ports.
  • Differing power standards, such as Qualcomm's Quick Charge and USB-C Power Delivery (PD) standards.
  • How a lot of cables don't support Power Delivery, and even some that do don't support the wattages needed to charge laptops.

He lists many more, and I encourage you to read the piece because he really highlights how dire the USB-C standard is.

And, as Arment points out, it's not really going to get any better.

Before today's USB-C can become ubiquitous and homogeneous, the next protocol or port will come out. We'll have new, faster USB 4.0 and Thunderbolt 4 standards over the same-looking USB-C ports. We'll want to move to an even thinner USB-D port. The press will call it "the future" and Apple will celebrate its new laptops that only have a USB-D port -- two, if we're lucky.

And we'll have to start over again, buying all new cables, dongles, hubs, chargers, batteries, and displays to adapt it to what we really need.

Maybe next time, we'll get it right. But probably not.

The problem with USB-C is that the industry wanted it to do too much too quickly. While a port that can be used for data and charging is a good idea on, say, a smartphone or tablet, on a high-end laptop is brings with it a set of challenges, and creates endless port and cable confusion.

Equally, smashing together USB-C and Thunderbolt made sense on paper, but in the real world it ended up being confusing.

We wanted this single port to do too much.

You could argue that the regular old USB-A port did the same thing -- different standards and cables and device support but visually the same port, but the transitions from USB to USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 and USB 3.2 were not only slower, but also less jarring.

Like Arment, I don't expect things to get better, just for things to change. The goal seems to be to transition from many cables through using a single cable, to going wireless. And in many ways modern smartphones have gone a long way to achieving this (if it weren't for high-speed charging on the iPhone 8, I'd probably go wireless all the time). And the iPhone 8 is a good example of just some of the problems with USB-C. The iPhone 8 supports fast charge using the Power Delivery standard, which is great, but the only USB-C to Lightning cable I've found that will work with the handset is Apple's own $25 cable.

But when it comes to tablets and laptops, that totally wireless future is a long way off, and we're going to have to suffer through many more iterations of mess before adopting a wireless standard that will no doubt be just as messy.

See also:

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