Introduction to Today's Device Connection Standards

Setting the Stage: The Current Standards

The current state of accessory connections is simultaneously confusing and very promising. The reason for these seemingly conflicting states of affairs is because 2016 marks the beginning of a transition period in this area of technology. First and foremost, USB is a standard that everyone thinks they know at this point, but is in a period of change. The days of USB 1.0 are long gone, and USB 2.0 is what most are familiar with as it has seen unprecedented adoption rates, befitting the universality in its name. While USB 2.0 is still confusing in its own right, what with USB Type-A and several Type-B (micro, mini) connectors, it has firmly entrenched itself in the consumer mindspace. In the last two years, however, a family of new standards for USB has emerged and created confusion and, in some cases, frustration with end users. USB 3.1 and USB Type-C are at the forefront of device connections, but have a plethora of challenges that must be overcome before users will become comfortable with their adoption. Meanwhile, the lesser-used Thunderbolt port occupies the higher-end of the connection space. Thunderbolt is taking steps to integrate with USB Type-C and 3.1 and increase adoption incentive. Finally, there is the Lightning port. Although this is a proprietary port, its sole presence in Apple's most recent mobile phones makes it a significant one to many users. The worthiness of the Lightning port is questionable, but its importance to Apple, and therefore Apple users, is less so.

USB Type-C on the newest Macbook


USB continues to be the modern standard for all device connections, but massive advancements are being made in the specs, alongside some major user confusion.

Legacy Thunderbolt 2 connector


Thunderblt, the high-end connector, still has not seen widespread adoption along the likes of USB, although it has its professional fans. Thunderbolt is looking to find new ways to increase its relevance, including faster speeds and compaibility with new USB standards.

Sole Lightning port on the iPhone 7


Lightning is still the oddball out, a proprietary port found only in Apple's iPhone and iPad, as well as approved Made for iPhone accessories. It's seeing some incremental changes, but is becoming even less meaningful in a world of advancing USB.