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

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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Explainers

The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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