Ever since Apple launched the new MacBook, USB Type-C has been receiving a lot of attentions. A single port can virtually perform anything offered by the connectors available in the markets. They can even charge your device at the same rate as your AC adaptor (or maybe even faster)
Since it is that good, will USB Type-C be the future standard? If so, does that mean we will say goodbye to our 3.5mm phone jack?
1. Features of USB Type C that may replace 3.5mm Phone Jack in consumer-electronics products
1. Physical attribute: Smaller and Reversible plugin – The new USB Type-C measured at 8.34 x 2.56 is much smaller compared to the current USB standard which measured at 12.5 X 5.12. This makes the new USB Type-C more desirable than the current version especially in the area of portable devices such as tablets and mobile phones.
Unlike the current version which you could only plug it in in one way, the new USB Type-C could be plugged in either way which make it more user-friendly than the current version. We have witnessed some headphone makers use micro-USB instead of the 3.5mm port for their products. Unfortunately, that didn’t take off. In my opinion, it is not just because of the legacy of 3.5 mm port. Rather, it is hard to use the existing USB standard. To cut the long story short, the improved USB Type-C may help in the adoption in the headphone markets.
2. Bidirectional High Power Transmission (fast charging) – Typical power output of 3.5mm phone jack used in mobile device and computer ranges about 10-100mW. Hence, it will require additional amp to drive higher-end headphone if you are looking for better sound quality. On top of that, more headphone makers are releasing noise-cancelling products which requires additional batteries (sometimes, built-in) due to power limitations.
The new USB Type-C has a higher output upto 100W. With that kind of power output, there is virtually no need for an additional amp to drive heavy-duty headphones. However, complete elimination of built-in battery is impossible. Battery is still essential for other applications such as bluetooth headsets. Faster charging via USB Type-C will mean that headphone could be installed with higher-capacity battery so as to reduce power usage from the mobile devices.
With higher-capacity battery together with the use of USB-Type C, headphones could be used as power bank for their mobile devices from the technology’s perspective. However, I think the likelihood of that happening is pretty low. Will you rely your headphones to charge your mobile devices?
3. Faster data transmission – Current 3.5 mm jack delivers analogue signal. However, electronics devices these days deliver digital signal. Although technologies are available to convert digital to analogue for our listening pleasures, conversion lead to less efficiency in signal processing i.e. loss of fidelity in the music that you listen.
USB delivers digital signal which means there is no need for conversion. With a faster data transmission in USB Type-C, mobile devices can deliver data-intensive high quality sound to the headphone.
From the technology’s perspective, it is without a doubt that the USB Type-C is better than the existing 3.5 mm audio port. Does that mean market will adopt this a new standard?
In my opinion, 3.5 mm audio port will be made redundant in the consumer’s electronics market. Before that happens, I foresee some near term market event that serves as a milestone.
2. Adoption of USB Type-C as a standard for laptop and desktop computers.
Apple and Google have made their first move. Apple has made a bold attempt by removing all standard ports in their new MacBook; keeping only 1 x USB Type-C and a 3.5 mm port. The single USB port in the new MacBook is used for charging and connecting of external devices such as portable drives, mobile phones and display monitor.
On the other hand, Google is less daring. The latest Chromebook Pixel gives users 2 x USB Type C ports so that user can charge with one and connect to other external devices with another at the same time. The new Chromebook Pixel also come with current USB 3.0 ports.
Both companies have foreseen the new USB Type C is going to be the standard in the industry. Sooner or later, more technology companies will be jumping into the bandwagon by including this new USB Type C in their new products. I believe before the end of 2015, all new laptop or desktop computers will come with at least 2 USB Type-C ports just like Google Chromebook. In other words, AC adaptor will not longer needed for laptop computers
3. Apple creates the needs of using USB Type-C as a audio port
As a mobile device user, I have observed the number of times that I will connect the micro USB of my mobile device. In many situations, I only do so is because I want to charge my devices. It doesn’t matter to me whether the device comes with micro-USB port or any other proprietary ports as long as the other connecting end goes to standard USB port.
If that’s the case, is there a need for mobile phone or tablet makers change the existing micro-USB port? In my opinion, Apple will take the leap to be the first company to do so for their i-products.
These are some indicators in the market:
1. Apple’s involvement in the development of USB Type -C
There is absolutely no reason why Apple needs to create a new standard if they don’t see any value in using that in their products. The features and benefits of USB Type-C are the key drivers for Apple to include in their products.
2. The new MacBook is the test bed for USB Type-C
It is a calibrated move by Apple. Macbook is their flagship product but the profit generated from there is significantly lower than their iPad and iPhone. Thus, it is a logical step to test the market’s response on the USB Type-C using MacBook.
In addition, it is also a stepping stone that Apple makes to encourage the market to adopt the new standard. Many people might think that this is a aggressive and risky move to remove all the standard ports. However, history has shown that Apple is consistently able to prove the market wrong.
To elaborate further, since there is only USB Type-C , Apple users will have to purchase additional adaptor to connect with existing Apple products. With users in mind, Apple product team will have to design new products that are “connectable” with the new MacBook.
3.Trend of making i-products thinner.
There is always a limit on how thin your mobile phone or tablet could be. If you have noticed the thinnest mobile phone in the market, it does not have a 3.5 mm audio port (because of the diameter of the port making it impossible to go any thinner). See OPPO R5 Instead, they use an external 3.5mm-to-micro-USB digital audio convertor so that you could continue to use your normal audio headset.
If the trend of making device thinner continues, the logical move is to remove 3.5 mm port completely and replace with the smaller USB Type-C. In fact, the idea of using micro-USB or lightning connectors in headphones is not new. Headphone makers have already made the move in manufacturing their products that come with lightning connectors. See Philips Fidelio M2L
4.Apple bought Beats Electronics
Apple has never officially declared on how Beats’ products integrating with Apple products. Some said it is the Beats’ licensing business to Apple’s competitors that triggers Apple’s acquisition. Seriously?
Beats is one of the largest acquisition made by Apple in recent years. Obviously, there are many reasons why Apple acquires Beats. One key reason is the brand value of Beats. The perceived high-quality image of Beats’ audio products coincides with Apple’s i-products.
These days consumers listen to music on their mobile devices. Ironically, consumers are very willing to pay for a good audio headsets so much so that mobile phones and headphones are seem like compliment products to each other. If you enter Apple stores, most of the audio accessories you see belongs to Beats. Well, the Beats’ acquisition could be seem as an alternate revenue stream.
But, Apple, being a technology company, will not be just sitting on their brands. Historically, Apple has exhibited the capability of reshaping the way how consumers use the mobile phones and computers. With headphone makers like Beats under their wing, I don’t see why they are unable to replace the 3.5 mm port with a better-performing USB Type-C.
4. Why USB Type-C now?
Fragmented audio accessory for mobile devices. Prior production, 3rd party accessory makers have to decide whether they are making for iOS or non-iOS devices. USB Type-C is partly developed by Apple but not proprietary to them i.e. other electronics players could use this technology.
As I have suggested in the early part of the article, Apple is showing signs of ditching their own proprietary lightning connectors and switch to USB Type-C. When that happens, it will simplify the production process of these 3rd party audio accessory makers. With a more unified mobile accessory market, consumers will not be concerned with the compatibility issue between their mobile devices and accessories as part of their buying decision. This will solve the fragmentation problem in the market.
I would like to emphasise that the article is to highlight the diminishing needs of having 3.5 mm in the consumer electronics markets. Nonetheless, 3.5 mm will be replaced in the consumer electronic product within the next 3 years time but it will still remain as a legacy standard as it is still widely used in other industrious machineries.