USB-C is on iPhone, But Type-C is still a Mess

I have written in several pieces that USB-C is not the silver bullet to the dongle problems. Even as Apple opened up its Lightning walled garden, presenters couldn’t simply say: ‘we have USB-C now’. It needed to be said what kind of spec this port will carry: how fast its USB protocol will be, how fast it will charge, and what other deviations it will support, and so on. One would think now this makes one less proprietary port, but I’m afraid the one bus to rule them all needs several other lesser busses to make it happen.

One of the features USB-C devices started to add is the ability to charge one device from another. For example, if your phone is running low on juice, simply connect it to your iPad, and iPad will magically share its power thanks to both devices sharing the same port. The keyword is “magically”, because USB-C swings both ways (i.e. something has to decide which device will be the receiving end), while devices may not. Type-C offers a feature, but it doesn’t clearly mandate compliance.

This problem isn’t just limited to charging. Same goes with any USB-C accessories, data cables, and other miscellaneous gadgets. There is no guarantee what will work with USB-C. Recent The Verge coverage on iPhone Pro Max photography had a hiccup where the saved footage the reviewer wanted to use was not in fact in 60fps due to slower type-C cable she used. One could reasonably argue Apple can be more forthcoming with cables, but no doubt some backlashes on MFI had played some major roles in the California-based tech giant’s decision. The incident I would dub as ‘The Verge Type-C Hiccup’ is significant in three criteria: 1. not even a seasoned tech journalist can escape from the mess that is USB-C, 2. as I have argued previously, type-C lacks physical labeling of its specs, 3. the outcome from mismatched USB accessories seems entirely random.

The journalist proposed that Apple should display a message that the cable does not meet the required bandwidth for 60fps shooting. Testing cable integrity and bandwidth is not exactly the task I would ask of a camera app, let alone an operating system. This is a job for bare metal. Testing cable specs are usually done with designated equipment, not PC, eve in the boring IT. If anything, we should be asking how did iOS Camera app saved footage at all, and whether we should appreciate any footage was saved with substandard cable.

I’m not a professional photographer, but my limited experience in astrophotography tells me cameras asking for certain spec of storage is rather common nowadays. Micro SD cards, a common format used in cameras, may look all alike on the surface, but SD Association, the standard developing body behind the SD format, understood the needs to label out the specs, such as speed, random access, and etc. for different use cases. When all is said and done, current blunder behind the Type-C is definitely not the first of its kind, and this would have been less confusing —albeit it won’t be foolproof— for the users.

What disappoints me further with USB-C is when it actually fails to charge with Type-C to Type-C cable, and using a dongle in between to make one port USB-A fixes the issue. USB-C swings both way, so the device in question has to signal each other which will get what. Using a dongle or USB-A fixes that handshake problem. To use a dongle to fix a dongle-free cable is simply absurd, and the experience is undignifying.

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