Explainers

Battle of the reversibles: USB-C vs Lightning connector

Which port is best for your device?

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Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

Gone are the days of the peculiar dance of the ports thanks to reversible connectors. We’re talking about the USB-C standard and the Lightning connector from Apple. Both are amazing and helpful for consumers, but the two are quite different. And no, it’s not a matter of Android versus iPhone.

What is USB-C?

USB-C, technically known as USB Type-C, is the latest and most versatile USB connector to date. If you happen to have a premium phone, you already have a USB-C port for charging and wired connectivity. If you have the latest MacBook or MacBook Pro, it’s the sole type of port on your laptop for wired video and data output, as well as charging. You will find USB-C on most mobile devices nowadays, even laptops, because it’s a standard that anyone can use. But not all USB-C ports and connectors are created equal.

A technical explanation as to why they’re not all equal is that USB-C is actually just the style of connector and port; the real power comes from the USB 3.1 technology it uses, which can deliver 100 watts of power and is capable of a 10Gbps data transfer rate. It also supports Thunderbolt 3 technology for an even faster 40Gbps transfer. But not all USB-C types have USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 speeds, especially for mobile phones.

While the older USB we’re familiar with are mainly used for storing and transferring files, the new USB-C standard is not limited to that. It can relay images for displays with support for full DisplayPort A/V performance up to an 8K resolution. It’s also backward-compatible with VGA, DVI, and the trusty HDMI as long as you have the right adapters.

Since all USB-C ports and connectors look alike, it’s now harder to distinguish what the port or cable is for. Could it be a power source or for charging? Maybe for high-resolution video? Or high-speed data transfer? You’ll have to know the specifications to be sure.

What is Lightning?

Apple already had their proprietary connector with the early iPhones, but it was only since the introduction of the Lightning connector along with the iPhone 5 in 2012 that made their own design popular.

From a cumbersome 30-pin dock connector, Apple had a smaller and reversible one which was ahead of its time. Even the common micro-USB port can’t compete with the convenience of the Lightning connector. Since it’s proprietary, only Apple can use it and third-party accessory manufacturers have to pay a licensing fee to apply it to their products.

The technical specification of Lightning is pretty limited, but when it first came out, tests showed that its speeds were up to 480Mbps — the same with the old USB 2.0 standards. In 2015, the iPad Pro showed a faster speed of 5Gbps, but that’s still only half of USB 3.1 speeds.

What are the significant differences between the two?

It’s easy to differentiate the two based on their appearances. If you’ve ever used or seen an iPhone, you’re already familiar with how the Lightning connector looks with its pins exposed. USB-C looks cleaner and simpler with its symmetrical connector.

Lightning connector (left) and USB-C (right)

Again, USB-C refers to the style of the port and connector rather than the technology it has. It is convenient because it’s reversible and universal. The whole point was to have a single style of connector and port that could run pretty much everything.

The Lightning connector is solely used to connect Apple mobile devices like iPhones, iPads, and iPods to host computers, external monitors, cameras, battery chargers, and other peripherals. You won’t find it on any other device, even MacBooks.

Why is Apple not using the Lightning connector on MacBooks and will USB-C replace Lightning on iPhones?

Will we ever see a Lightning connector on a MacBook? Highly unlikely. But there’s a possibility that Apple will use USB-C soon on iPhones. Last year’s rumors pointed to the iPhone X having USB-C, but it didn’t.

With the new MacBooks relying purely on USB-C, an iPhone with USB-C is not far from reality. That’s unless Apple wants to keep the revenue from Lightning connector licensing.

Which is better?

When paired with USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 technology, USB-C is faster, more powerful, and provides greater versatility than Lightning. It’s also now widely adopted for consumer technologies may it be on phones, laptops, or other mobile gadgets.

USB-C is the future. Apple already accepted it on their premium notebooks which kind of triggered professionals who are using MacBooks, but that’s the future we’re heading towards. It will come to a point where we’ll just plug in a cable and it’ll simply work. For now, we still need to understand the differences and live with dongles.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

SEE ALSO: Why is USB Type-C so important?

Explainers

DITO is all-in for the next generation of mobile connectivity

But what do they mean by this, exactly?

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For as long as most Filipinos can remember, the Philippines has always had only two major mobile networks that they could choose from. This made the choice of network provider a bit simple but very limited for consumers. Recently, however, an actual third player came into the picture in the form of DITO Telecommunity.

While availability started back in March, DITO is making strides in terms of the services it’s offering. Currently, they are available in over 650 cities and municipalities across the country. Also, for the most part, these offers consist of high-speed data plans at an affordable rate. Where they want you to shift your attention to, however, is that their network also supports 5G connectivity. In their words, it’s the “next-gen technology” they want their consumers to experience.

So, what is this “next-gen technology” that they’re going on about?

Let’s review: the essence of 5G

The biggest thing about DITO’s new network service is their claim to bring “the real 5G” to the Philippines, at least according to DITO CTO Retired Major General Rodolfo Santiago. We had already talked about the whole 5G experience and what it brings to the table, so let’s not get into it too much. Basically, 5G serves as the next big thing in mobile connectivity, promising faster connections and wider coverage.

As such, telecommunication companies are opting-in to provide just that to its consumer base. However, like most new technologies, there are obstacles in the way that makes fast mobile data a little impossible to achieve. Well, DITO pretty much has that covered with what they call their world-class digital infrastructure.

Standing alone, or not standing alone?

While competitors began to introduce 5G to its consumers earlier, what they initially deployed was 5G non-standalone (NSA) network. This means that their 5G architecture is assisted by their existing 4G infrastructure. DITO, on the other hand, began developing their 5G standalone (SA) network since their rollout in 2019. 

In theory, 5G standalone networks like DITO provides super-fast transmission speeds with ultra-low latency, which is suitable for most enterprises. Per its namesake, it relies heavily on its own 5G infrastructure instead of using its legacy 4G infrastructure as a jump-off point. In turn, DITO users will experience true 5G speeds every time they connect to the internet through mobile data. In other words, 5G standalone is “true 5G”.

With 5G standalone, DITO unlocks the “true 5G” in accommodating what 4G networks previously couldn’t. While it is building on what 4G connectivity initially offered, over time, it will eventually solidify itself as the standard for mobile connectivity.

The true goal for DITO

“Our goal has been to allow Filipinos to experience next-generation technology and we in DITO are excited to bring 5G to more areas in the country to truly transform digital connectivity and online interactions,” added DITO Chief Technology Officer Rodolfo Santiago.

For DITO, this is the “breakthrough connectivity” they want to bring to the general public. Apart from achieving greater mobile data speeds, each DITO SIM gives users access to more enhanced versions of innovations that are already widely available since the introduction of 4G. Two of which are VoLTE and ViLTE, the latter of which is something DITO proudly boasts.

Their next-gen offer: VoLTE and ViLTE

What exactly are these two innovations they’re enhancing with their services? Let’s start with VoLTE, mostly because this isn’t necessarily something new for most people. Simply put, Voice over LTE or VoLTE allows users to make voice calls without compromising mobile data speed. Normally, it’s an either-neither thing, wherein one use case will be a priority.

What is new is ViLTE, or as DITO calls it: Video over LTE, which works the same way as VoLTE but for video calls. In essence, users can make video calls from your device without the need for a video calling app. Also, these video calls are charged with the same rates as a normal voice call. However, this feature is currently limited to video calls between DITO subscribers.

Bringing it all together, DITO offers a package with faster connections and greater savings considering the innovations. It’s not something that a lot of other telcos are offering; for DITO, however, the experience doesn’t stop there.

Any phone will do, but what exactly do you need?

Upon its early availability, DITO released a list of compatible phones that supposedly bring out the telco’s best features. Like most providers, the DITO SIM works with any smartphone, 5G or not, for the bare minimum features like calling, texting, and mobile data. To experience “the real 5G,” however, they want a 5G device with a more standalone architecture.

For context, the 5G smartphones on this list come with either 5G NSA or 5G SA. The main difference between the two is, well, non-standalone architecture isn’t necessarily true 5G; rather, it is applying 5G to a 4G network. Meanwhile, 5G SA is its own 5G network, built and connected to 5G network bases to deliver higher speeds with lower latency than 4G.

In DITO’s case, only a handful of smartphones actually support the 5G SA architecture, which is where their 5G capabilities are built on. Currently, they are continuously exploring avenues to expand their network in order to bring “the real 5G” to more Filipinos, provided they have a supported smartphone. Again, these kinds of smartphones are a bit pricey, but to experience “the real 5G,” it’s not a bad trade-off.

The future is DITO (here)?

DITO enters the scene with the goal of bringing the next big thing in telecommunications, and their offer hinges on it. In their eyes, the promise of faster internet and wider coverage is already here, and it’s just a matter of getting people to opt-in. With its latest innovations, DITO provides a more enhanced mobile data experience.

To fully experience the next generation of technology, users must be properly equipped to wield such power. There’s a reason that DITO put out a device compatibility list upon initial launch: to provide users the best possible experience with all the features they have. Sure, any device will work with the DITO SIM, but certain devices give you that best experience.

Is it time to make the switch to the next-gen? In DITO’s eyes, the answer is simple and they’re waiting for people to join them.


This feature is a collaboration between GadgetMatch and DITO Philippines.

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Explainers

The secrets behind iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Together with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing as well as their Human Interface Designer

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For the first time ever, we had a three-way interview with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance as well as one of their leading Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari. If you’re not starstruck enough, both of them appeared in Apple’s September 2021 Keynote event!

Other than new camera sensors, newer camera features are also found on the new iPhone 13 Series. One of those is the new Cinematic Mode.

If you’ve watched some of our latest iPhone videos including the Sierra Blue iPhone 12 Pro Max unboxing, we’ve let you take a sneak peek on that new video mode.

We’re not gonna lie, it’s one amazing camera feature Apple has managed to deliver.

But what are the secrets behind it? And are you curious how technicalities work?

Watch our 16-minute interview with the Apple executives explaining why Cinematic Mode is the next big thing in mobile videography.

 

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Apps

How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

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Illustrations by Kris Blanco

Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

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