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The Impossible Dream of USB-C (marco.org) 350

Marco Arment, a prominent developer best known for co-founding Tumblr, explains things that are still crippling USB-C, despite being around for years and being used in mainstream products. Arment writes: While a wide variety of USB-C dongles are available, most use the same handful of unreliable, mediocre chips inside. Some USB-A dongles make Wi-Fi drop on MacBook Pros. Some USB-A devices don't work properly when adapted to USB-C, or only work in certain ports. Some devices only work when plugged directly into a laptop's precious few USB-C ports, rather than any hubs or dongles. And reliable HDMI output seems nearly impossible in practice. Very few hubs exist to add more USB-C ports, so if you have more than a few peripherals, you can't just replace all of their cables with USB-C versions. You'll need a hub that provides multiple USB-A ports instead, and you'll need to keep your USB-A cables for when you're plugged into the hub -- but also keep USB-C cables or dongles around for everything you might ever need to plug directly into the computer's ports. Hubs with additional USB-C ports might pass Thunderbolt through to them, but usually don't. Sometimes, they add a USB-C port that can only be used for power passthrough. Many hubs with power passthrough have lower wattage limits than a 13-inch or 15-inch laptop needs. Fortunately, USB-C is a great charging standard. Well, it's more of a collection of standards. USB-C devices can charge via the slow old USB rates, but for higher-powered devices or faster charging, that's not enough current.
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The Impossible Dream of USB-C

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  • Stopped reading (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:45AM (#55382761)
    Seems like a stream of thought list of statements rather than a cohesive message. Maybe that's the point?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, I mean the article is "Man who wrote Tumblr gives his uneducated opinion on hardware"

    • by The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <megazzt@NosPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @10:46AM (#55383197) Homepage
      Maybe he typed it with a USB-C keyboard.
    • Re:Stopped reading (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ndnet ( 3243 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @11:23AM (#55383503)
      I think part of the problem is that this is a complex issue that it's really hard to boil down to bullet points. Let's see:
      • - USB-C connectors are a huge upgrade w/r/t size/sturdiness/reversibility (nice)
      • - The USB-C connector was so good that it was rushed to market (bad)
      • - USB-C connectors don't tell you anything else about the device or cables (bad)
      • - The fact that USB-C makes no modern minimum speed guarantees - ie, there are USB-C devices with USB 2.0 signaling, like the Nexus 6P (bad)
      • - USB-3.1+ 'Alternate Mode' is confusing because you can't tell from the port which, if any, are supported at all (bad)
      • - USB Charging standards are mediocre. At least you theoretically can charge a phone with a charger you haven't researched. (bad)
      • - Quick Charge was a great interim step by one large manufacturer but needs to die because it's not open at all (bad)
      • - USB PD seems to be hard for manufacturers to get right, and as such there's risk - see the Nathan K. / Google stuff (bad)
      • - Part of the problem is that the 3.1+ chipsets are still immature, and we were just starting to get USB 3.0 down right (bad)
      • - Losing the audio jack to USB-C may be more bad-PR than a frequent actual inconvenience, but either way it's (bad)

      So, except for that first bullet point, we are in the worst USB timeline. Still, even as bullet points, it's describing a mess.

  • Short memory (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:46AM (#55382765)

    Dude has a short memory, remember when USB stood for Unsupported Serial Bus?

  • Firewire (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Firewire or bust

  • USB-AC (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:48AM (#55382779)

    I'm going to write a spec for USB-AC... delivers 120 Volts AC to all of your peripherals.

    • Re: USB-AC (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      positively shocking

    • with hookers and blackjack!

  • Summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:50AM (#55382785)

    The guy is basically complaining that USB-C doesn't work well on Apple products. Most of his complaints are due directly to design decisions by Apple... "laptop's precious few USB-C ports", "dongles make Wi-Fi drop on MacBook Pros", etc.

    • The guy is basically complaining that USB-C doesn't work well on Apple products. Most of his complaints are due directly to design decisions by Apple... "laptop's precious few USB-C ports", "dongles make Wi-Fi drop on MacBook Pros", etc.

      USB-C won't charge my Tesla dammit!

    • Re:Summary (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @10:05AM (#55382923) Homepage Journal

      This. I've been using USB-C for a while on Windows 8.1 and it's fine. Everything works as you would expect.

      The only issue I had was with MTP for file transfer, but that turned out to be a software issue and the patch last month fixed it. USB-C itself though has been great, even with cheap cables.

    • by anegg ( 1390659 )

      Interesting point. Perhaps part of the problem that is being blamed on USB-C as a standard is rooted in how USB-C is being used... forcing people to use an external dongle for Ethernet is kind of like removing someone's intestines and forcing them to use a colostomy bag, all while assuring them its a better solution...

      • The problem is that USB-C is being used as a universal connector for many different things because of some goal to have "The one true connector". Many geeks have called for this in the beginning days of USB. The implications are now starting to hit in how it might be confusing to have the same connector do two different things and it matters which of the two ports are used: Is this the power charging port or the mostly data port? For now I see it as part of growing pains with the new connector. Better label
  • dongle (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:50AM (#55382789)
    Just last night I was trying to copy a small config file to my android box. Samba wasn't working for me. Sftp transfer? I set up an ssh server. Nope wasn't working either. I see a flash drive, and think, why don't I just simply move the file with the flash drive. I grab the flash drive and run to my laptop and remember it's a macbook with usb-c and I have no idea where the usb dongle is. I felt defeated at that point.
  • by jlv ( 5619 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:55AM (#55382845)

    But now I need to worry about injection attacks when connecting to a power source. WTF?

    IMHO, USB-C is not a good idea for all things.

    • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

      When I plug my USB-C phone in to my laptop to charge, it consumes power only, and then you have to manually enable data. I would imagine this is similar for other devices as well.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:56AM (#55382861)
    It's the USB part. In other words, ISB-C should never have come into existence. Trying to build upon the weak foundation that is USB hurt USB-C from the beginning. The effort required for USB compatibility was overwhelming and crippling.
    • OTOH, trying to compete with USB would've made the new standard the next FireWire: Technically better in every regard but too expensive and not ubiquitous enough. It would've found niche use and would've died at some point because everyone would've stuck with USB.

      I mean, what would NewStandard-C have offered? Small plugs? Micro-USB. Faster charging? Qualcomm Quick Charge and similar standards. Support for displays? HDMI and (mini-)DisplayPort already fill the need perfectly. Faster speeds? Not interesting
  • As someone looking to buy a Switch next week - and charge it around the house and in the car - I've been looking at USB-C a lot lately, and this article tells me nothing. The biggest issue seems to be the USB-A 2amp bottleneck, or something, more than USB-C per se. For me the best thing about USB-C is it has no top or bottom, it just fits, USB should have been like this from the beginning. It seems to be nearly small enough for any device yet powerful enough for any device. Why is hasn't become the new indu
  • My List (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Voyager529 ( 1363959 ) <voyager529 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:59AM (#55382889)

    1. He's absolutely right about it being a "collection of standards", where it's unclear whether a USB-C receptacle is power-only, high-power, power+data...etc. That inconsistency is hindrance to adoption, rather than flexibility.
    2. There are tens of billions of items with USB-A connectors, for which even the 480mbits/sec of USB 2.0 is 'fast enough', and USB3 speeds are "definitely fast enough". Quite a number of these things are rather expensive. By contrast, there are very, very few devices that have a USB-C port for something other than charging.
    3. Machines with USB-A ports tend to have a lot of them. Most standard-sized laptops have 3-5 of them, desktops have 6-10. I've yet to see a computer with USB-C provide more than two such ports. It does not help spur adoption when the number of ports available amount to "one to charge, one for the hub for all the other things".
    4. Cables are expensive...except when they are inexpensive and they don't work, or outright combust.

    But the really big reason I feel that USB-C hasn't gone much of anywhere is because no one really asked for it. The 12mbits/sec of USB 1.1 was quickly a bottleneck, and it was backwards compatible. The 480Mbits/sec of USB 2.0 was fast enough for plenty of things, but bulk data transfers and other tasks benefit from USB3...and both of them were backwards compatible at a physical level. USB-C is "maybe whatever you want it to be", doesn't have the same connectors, lacks real standardization beyond the connectors...and aside from the ability to flip it, from a customer's point of view it's supposed to be superior, how?

    I'm sure it will increase its momentum and/or find a niche eventually, but the fact that it's going to require a painful and expensive transition period makes it the kind of thing that will take far longer than the iterations of USB that have been the standard for nearly two decades.

    • I've yet to see a computer with USB-C provide more than two such ports.

      This is true, and I have to admit, I'm actually surprised at this, especially considering the lack of hubs and on cell phones that have removed the headphone adapter.

      What's so hard about fitting at least four ports on a laptop?

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      ... from a customer's point of view it's supposed to be superior, how?

      As an international standard for power delivery with enough power to charge a laptop or quick charge a phone or tablet.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      It took forever for even desktops to get more than 2 USB-3 A ports. Only in the last year maybe have I seen new systems ship with 100% USB-3 ports.

      I wonder how much of this is just due to 99% of end users not fucking caring because 99% of their use case is USB-2 dependent at best, so manufacturers just don't bother with newer ports until the chipsets basically provide nothing but the new standard.

      I also would guess that as usual Intel is to blame somehow, being all over the map about what ports they suppor

    • Thunderbolt 1 and 2 had the same issues the ext pci-e idea was cool but warp it with video and to tie it on board video chips?? (at least some pro workstations had TB cards with an DP loop back cable to the full size video card)

      TB3 is just warping DP + TB + USB into one.

      Apple really need to keep a change port or least charger + usb-c port pass-though (full with TB) in the box.

    • Apple provides laptops that have four USB-C ports.

      As to USB-A being such a sure standard... what happens when I plug my USB-3 drive into a device? It has a standard USB-A cable on one end, yes, and it will technically work - but on some devices it will only us USB-2.0 speeds, on others that support USB-3 it will be far faster. How is that not just as confusing for the non-technical user? It's the same device and cables and ports, but can work very differently across multiple devices...

      • Apple provides laptops that have four USB-C ports.

        This is a fair point. Though the Airs famously have only one, and the lower end Pros only have two, the higher end models do indeed provide four ports. Thank you.

        As to USB-A being such a sure standard... what happens when I plug my USB-3 drive into a device? It has a standard USB-A cable on one end, yes, and it will technically work - but on some devices it will only us USB-2.0 speeds, on others that support USB-3 it will be far faster. How is that not just as confusing for the non-technical user? It's the same device and cables and ports, but can work very differently across multiple devices...

        Because their data still moves in exactly the same way, just slower. It doesn't work "differently", just at different speeds. Moreover, USB3 ports are blue, so it's clear that plugging that drive into ports that aren't blue, your drive will work at 2.0 speeds...but still work.

        By contrast, let's take a USB-C to HDMI adapter. Yes, HDMI has its own my

    • He's absolutely right about it being a "collection of standards", where it's unclear whether a USB-C receptacle is power-only, high-power, power+data...etc. That inconsistency is hindrance to adoption, rather than flexibility.

      There needs to be some kind of mandatory icon set next to the USB logo, to indicate what modes a device's USB-C ports support. Maybe with arrows pointing to/from the icon to indicate which way the support goes.

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )

      2 - USB Type-C has nothing to do with speed its just another connector like A/B/micro/mini.

      The problem here is that Intel co-opted the USB Type-C connector for Thunderbolt. Likely (3) is caused by manufacturers avoiding adding standard USB ports that won't function with devices plugged into other ports. Unfortunately not only are the devices are incompatible but the fucking cables are too. In short fuck Intel for Thunderbolt for a sub-par standard no one needs and is breaking the universe.

      Qualcomm also ha

    • I honestly thought that USB 3 was NOT compatible with older/slower stuff that I plugged into it.

      It seems no matter what I plug into a USB port, Windows screams that "I could be going faster" or some other warning. Shit still works so I gave up caring. I don't use much USB these days, except my new Android phone uses USB-C which seems to work OK so far.

  • I'll start using it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @09:59AM (#55382891)

    USB-C doesn't solve any problem I have, so I'm not going to go out of my way for it and am not particularly excited about it. But I won't resist it, either. I'll adopt is as devices I use switch to it.

    • USB-c standardizes a connector sized for your phone, so you can plug devices into your phone without a cable. If your PC has a USB-c port and you get a Yubikey 4C, you can plug the device into your phone or your PC.

      USB-c is the future. That means we're right now banging our heads on the wall and hoping that our next Chromebooks and desktops have, like, 6 USB-c ports and 6 USB3 ports.

      This time around, however, the same chipset can control USB3 and USB-C ports. No fighting over parallel/serial ports tak

      • Yep -- but again, it doesn't solve any problem I have. My phone already has an appropriately sized standard connection -- so standard that I can grab any random cable or charger from my box and be guaranteed that it will work.

        USB-c is the future.

        Obviously, and I'm not resisting it. But that doesn't mean USB-C improves anything for me. As long as it doesn't make things too much worse, I'm OK with it.

  • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @10:06AM (#55382925)

    They decided to push USB-C and removed all USB-A ports before the USB-C specifications were ready? Sure USB-C can replace a lot of things on paper, but in real life it looks like a real mess of nearly a dozen different specifications.

    And the only Apple laptop left with USB-A ports is the MacBook Air, with an old 5th-generation intel CPU, a sub-par TN display and a standard of 8GB RAM with no 16GB option.

    • You can still buy the 2015 Macbook Pro.

      That's been my go to unless someone specifically requests one of those idiotic 2016 models.

      • You can still buy the 2015 MacBook Pro? It's not on Apple's website. Is the 13" still available? Because apart from that, the only other option for my price range is the MacBook Air and I'm not paying CAD$1300 for five-years-old technology.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ilsaloving ( 1534307 )

      What do you get then? A windows machine?

      Yeah, great choices here.

      Either get fucked with the hardware, or get fucked with the software. At least with Apple, you only get fucked once, up front. Microsoft will never stop causing you pain. You will live with the ever present fear that the next unblockable update will trash your machine.

  • It’s comforting to think that over time, this will all settle down and we’ll finally achieve the dream of a single cable and port for everything.

    No, that's not comforting. If such a wonderful time ever arrives, it will be followed shortly by a new "connector to replace them all" and we'll be at the front end of that train once again.

    • One connector to rule them all,
      One connector to find them,
      One connector to bring them all
      and in the darkness bind them.

  • Transition to USB-C (Score:5, Informative)

    by crow ( 16139 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @10:23AM (#55383039) Homepage Journal

    The transition is unnecessarily painful, but otherwise USB-C is a great idea that addresses most of the old USB issues.

    USB-C allows for must more power--I can plug in a USB-C cable and have power and accessories for my laptop, and it's great for phone charging.

    USB-C finally eliminates issues with upside-down USB connectors.

    USB-C has the same connector on both ends of the cable.

    USB-C should be fully backwards compatible with dongles.

    USB-C power should allow for nearly universal DC power. Ideally all home routers, switches, and such will use USB-C power, eliminating a wide assortment of power bricks and connectors. In fact, pretty much every wall wart power brick could be switched to USB-C. (Yes, this may mean USB-C wall warts, but it may also mean USB-C outlets.)

    USB-C does have potential security issues, as does any USB-power option. This is something that device manufacturers should have been dealing with all along, but it's even more important now.

    But there are problems where USB-C doesn't work as advertised. Many sub-standard cables and such are circulating, causing all sorts of problems. Lack of ports and dongles present a nasty headache in the short term.

    My conclusion is that now is a lousy time to buy a new computer. In two years, they should have plenty of USB-C ports, and everything will have switched over to it. Given the choice for a phone, though, I would pick USB-C over micro-USB.

    • USB-C finally eliminates issues with upside-down USB connectors.

      It finally eliminates those damn 4 dimensional connectors. You know what I mean: try and plug in a USB-A or mini/micro connector: nope. Flip it around, still no joy, Flip it around again and only then will it fit.

    • USB-C does have potential security issues, as does any USB-power option. This is something that device manufacturers should have been dealing with all along, but it's even more important now.

      I don't know about USB-C, but with the other USBs, this is a solved problem. You get a power-only cable. It has no data lines, so there's no security issue.

      My conclusion is that now is a lousy time to buy a new computer.

      I agree. Same with buying a new phone -- now is the time to hunker down and wait a couple of years to see how this stuff settles out.

      • by crow ( 16139 )

        I'm confident that USB-C will be in good shape within two years. With a phone, the only big issue is charging, and I think USB-C is ready for the job, so I wouldn't hold off on that. Of course, if you switch to wireless charging, then the USB issue is mostly moot. Then again, I don't use my phone with headphones, so issues with missing headphone jacks and dongles don't impact me. In general, though, the USB port on a phone has a much narrower range of uses than on a PC, so it's a lot easier to deal with

        • With a phone, the only big issue is charging, and I think USB-C is ready for the job, so I wouldn't hold off on that.

          Unless you want to plug the phone into, say, a laptop or other such device, which I do regularly. So I'll wait and see with the phone as well -- I'm hoping that I can hold off long enough for the entire ecosystem to settle out a bit.

          • In 2 years a phone that you buy today will likely be ready for replacement anyway, by which time the shaking out (shaking down??) of the USB choices might have occurred. Or not.

            I mean, we're not allowed to change out the battery any longer and those have a life expectancy of about 2 years. That alone dictates the life span of a phone.

    • by macwhiz ( 134202 )

      USB-C allows for must more power--I can plug in a USB-C cable and have power and accessories for my laptop, and it's great for phone charging.

      Presuming, of course, that you have the right cable and the right power adapter. Not all USB-C cables support all of the power delivery standards, and there are several incompatible power-delivery standards. If you pick the wrong ones, they'll plug in, but they won't work—or they'll work improperly, possibly draining your device instead of charging it. And if you buy a third-party cable, there's a good chance it's a fire risk.

      USB-C should be fully backwards compatible with dongles.

      Should be, but isn't. Sure, it probably works with USB 2.0 dongles. But supp

  • by Yew2 ( 1560829 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2017 @10:25AM (#55383063) Homepage
    Why does the fella who started Tumblr think hes suddenly part of the IEEE? We need new ports and cables to support this new fangled standard. (Duh.) Old cables are backwards compatible (score!) but dont work the same as the new (double duh!) And not to be hypocritical here by thinking my tiny slice of the world is authoritative but I use HDMI over USB-C daily.
  • Arment was Tumblr's first lead developer & CTO, but not a co-founder. It was founded by its CEO, David Karp.

  • Slashdot, you're letting me down here... Nobody read far enough to get the all but gift wraped:

    an even thinner USB-D

    Come on... If all you've got is a thinner B---D, you need to try harder.

  • This reads like a mirror of a rant from 1999 about how the hubs were crap, the cables expensive and variable, and the confusion rampant.

    USB will never take off!

  • how few of the hubs or converters actually contain a USB C port themselves which allows charging. I'm still looking for something reliable which also allows to attach more USB C devices.

I've got a bad feeling about this.

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