Apple’s move to USB-C resurfaces the need to label cables

Apple's move to USB-C resurfaces the need to label cables 1

Apple finally moved to the USB-C port with the iPhone 15 series to his Wonderlust event. While having a ubiquitous port for all phones (and most other gadgets) is a good thing, it’s absolutely necessary to label USB-C cables to understand their full capacity.

Initially, USB-C is simple. You can probably grab any USB-C cable you have lying around to charge your compatible phone. But unless you pay close attention, the cable and power brick combination may not charge your device at the optimal speed. This is because it may not adapt to the charging standards and speed of your phone.

Besides charging, a USB-C cable can transfer data and even drive displays. But you may not be able to understand what a cable is capable of just by looking at it.

For example, Apple launched two new cables capable of 60W and 240W charging power respectively. Below are the images from the product page. You may notice that one of the cables appears thicker, but there are no specifications or markings indicating its speed.

Apple's move to USB-C resurfaces the need to label cables 2

Image credits: Apple

While Apple moved to the USB-C port with the iPhone 15, the base models will still have USB 2.0 speeds for data transfers. Only Pro models will support 10Gbps data transfer speeds – aka “USB 3 speeds” – but you’ll need to purchase a separate cable for this.

Since USB comes in many versions when it comes to data transfer, it’s unclear whether Apple is trying to simplify or confuse things. Technically, the USB 3.0 specification provides for 5 Gbits/s. This is a USB 3.1 specification that introduced speeds of 10 Gbps. Very conveniently, USB 3.1 is also called USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 or USB 3.1 Gen 2 or SuperSpeed. There is also a USB 3.2 specification, which supports data transfer speeds of 20 Gbits. Pretty easy, right?

Find all our Apple Event 2023 coverage here.

The complexity doesn’t stop there; while new standards like USB 4 share a connector with Thunderbolt 4 or 5, abilities differ. At least Thunderbolt cables are likely to have been marked with a Thunderbolt logo.

USB-IF, the agency that certifies and sets the standard for USB cables under the USB Promoters Group, has attempted to address this problem by issuing guidelines for printing logos on packaging and cables. However, these are voluntary and many manufacturers do not display these logos often. With the new launch, Apple also released a bunch of USB-C based accessoriesbut it is not clear whether there will be any labeling or visual marker to indicate the different characteristics of a cable.

USB-C brand types

Image credits: USB-IF

Operating systems also have a role to play. If you try an unknown cable with your device, your phone won’t tell you what data or charging speeds it supports. ChromeOS rolled out a feature last year to indicate whether the USB-C cable you’re using supports DisplayPort or USB-4. It also indicates whether the data transfer capacity of the cable is less than the transfer capacity of the machine. Ideally, this is something that all operating systems should adopt.

Coming to Chrome OS M102: Newer Chromebooks (Intel 11th Gen or newer) will notify you if the USB-C cable you’re using with a dock or monitor doesn’t support DisplayPort!

– Benson Leung (@Laughing_Man) May 27, 2022

Our USB4 Chromebooks also support Thunderbolt 3 devices, and just like USB4, cable speed and capacity are important. Again, we’ve created a notification to alert the user when a cable and device combination doesn’t work well together.

– Benson Leung (@Laughing_Man) May 27, 2022

Apple’s adoption of USB-C for iPhones and AirPods will likely prompt many accessory makers to release numerous USB-C cables with different capabilities. Manufacturers who become transparent by introducing information about a cable’s capacity on the packaging and on the cable will likely gain popularity simply because it will make it easier for users to choose a suitable product.

Read more about Apple's iPhone 15 event at TechCrunch

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