Jacek Duda, Cadence
Now that the USB Type-C™ Cable and Connector Specification is starting to reach the masses, the world of advanced technology and hundred-pages-thick specifications finally meets the world of casual users. The initial impression is that while device owners appreciate the new features and ease of use, they are more puzzled than before with incompatibility of devices, dangerously bad cables, and the need for adapters for their old devices. What do we, as an industry, need to do to overcome these fears and secure a path to USB Type-C success?
USB is by far the most proliferated interface protocol in the world, with billions of devices shipping each year already, and many more to come. Taking a look back, you should feel nothing less than appreciation and amazement that this connector has survived so long, surpassing so many standards and replacing quite a few of them. There are still a couple of the “old” interfaces around, i.e., VGA, but these are currently only present in bigger laptops and desktops, projectors, and display monitors—devices where you can afford additional, larger size connectors to support legacy standards.
The USB Type-C connector is a huge departure from the current (or should I say already past?) USB Type-A and USB Type-B connectors. Starting with the most obvious, the USB Type-C connector has a new form, which means it is incompatible with any of the existing USB sockets (regular, mini, or micro). Then there is the pinout, and the capabilities it can provide. For a regular user that associates USB with a certain form factor rather than the protocol itself, there is not much in common between the new and old USB connectors and cables.
The vision of a single cable to rule them all is very appealing, and it’s a true accomplishment of the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) and its working groups that the USB Type-C connector came to life. However you look at it, the new plug is an improvement over every other USB standard available so far yet, with the potential for even more, with Thunderbolt 3 adopting USB Type-C connector being the prime example here.
Therefore, the challenge the industry is facing is of a dual nature. First, to make the new connectors work with the old, with all previous compatibility, availability of adapters, and driver support. Second, to make the new look radically better and more sophisticated than the old, making it a truly compelling proposition to switch to the new standard, with all the bells and whistles of a reversible connector, new capabilities, and availability of next-gen devices.
This year’s CES showed very vividly where the world is with adoption of USB Type-C—there were dozens of USB Type-C enabled devices and hundreds of cables and adapters on the show floor, with most of them already shipping to stores worldwide. Definitely decisions were made and many companies decided to jump on the new connection, for all the good and, sadly, bad of it. USB Type-C is now the most discussed news in the consumer tech press, and bad publicity can harm it, especially in the early adoption stage we’re in.
Recent articles in CNN Money and The Verge–which probably have more readers than all semiconductor websites combined—have this destructive potential. The take-aways from them are nowhere near the vision of USB Type-C creators and developers. Lots of grief goes in direction of the USB-IF—“a little-known” organization with “hilariously outdated” looking logos. Is this really the picture media are painting in the minds of potential USB Type-C users?
All people in the know are aware that the USB-IF has invested a lot of effort into making the USB Type-C situation clear to customers, especially in the US. During the recent annual meeting, they announced multiple trainings conducted at the largest retailers, where all staff was made familiar with ways to distinguish various capabilities of devices and cables, and was taught techniques to help customers choose the right one. Buying your stuff or accessories online certainly does not give you that comfort, but honestly, it never did, and it’s also a part of the value proposition of brick and mortar stores.
Another thing that is barely mentioned is the certification and logo program. It’s quite an effort to get a USB-compliance certification, and for each reputable vendor, a place on the USB products list is usually a matter of life and death for his product. The USB-IF organized multiple events over the last year to promote interoperability and certification, and thus accelerate adoption of the new standard.
As an industry and as heavy promoters of new technologies, each of us needs to take responsibility for educating customers on what the USB Type-C standard is, and how to take advantage of the standard. It’s in the best interest of all of us, semiconductor companies, to explain to our colleagues, friends, and family the benefits and true value of the new standard. It’s up to you and me to get people excited and educated about it.
Cadence has been investing in proper USB Type-C education for months now. Through videos, white papers, authorized third-party articles, and live events we have reached thousands of people with our message. We’ve been putting emphasis on what’s critical in USB Type-C deployment—compliance and interoperability. As a company, we took part in the interoperability workshops, proving our solution to work with (and not fry!) the vast majority of applications. We even made a video that you can show to everyone in your family (I did!), that explains all that USB Type-C offers in an attractive, simple and short form—take a look.
Each piece of the Cadence® Subsystem IP for the USB Type-C connector meets the requirements of the respective specification, be it USB or DisplayPort Controller, PHY or USB Type-C Port Controller. For the USB Type-C Port Controller, Cadence not only was one of the contributors to the specification, but also the first vendor to make this component available as an IP.
To conclude, we’re now in for an exciting, but hectic ride, to a better future. The USB Type-C standard is one of, if not the most promising technology that has happened to end users recently, and it’s through initiatives like interoperability and compliance workshops that we can make sure the user experience will be excellent, which, all in all, is what ultimately matters.
About the Author
Jacek Duda is a product marketing manager at Cadence, responsible for USB, Display and Peripheral IP. He has been in the industry for more than 10 years now. He has a master’s degree in IT marketing from the University of Economics in Katowice.