Explainers

Why is USB Type-C so important?

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Over the past decade, devices using the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard have become part of our daily lives. From transferring data to charging our devices, this standard has continued to evolve over time, with USB Type-C being the latest version. Here’s why you should care about it.

First, here’s a little history

Chances are you’ve encountered devices that have a USB port, such as a smartphone or computer. But what exactly is the USB standard? Simply put, it’s a communication protocol that allows devices to communicate with other devices using a standardized port or connector. It’s basically what language is for humans.

Here’s an example of a USB hub that uses Type-A connectors (Image credit: Anker)

When USB was first introduced to the market, the connectors used were known as USB Type-A. You’re likely familiar with this connector; it’s rectangular and can only be plugged in a certain orientation. To be able to make a connection, a USB Type-A connector plugs into a USB Type-A port just like how an appliance gets connected to a wall outlet. This port usually resides on host devices such as computers and media players, while Type-A connectors are usually tied to peripherals such as keyboards or flash drives.

There are also USB Type-B connectors, and these usually go on the other end of a USB cable that plugs into devices like a smartphone. Due to the different sizes of external devices, there are a few different designs for Type-B connectors. Printers and scanners use the Standard-B port, older digital cameras and phones use the Mini-B port, and recent smartphones and tablets use the Micro-B port.

Samples of the different USB Type-B connectors. From left to right: Standard-B, Mini-B, and Micro-B (Image credit: Amazon)

Specifications improved through the years

Aside from the type of connectors and ports, another integral part of the USB standard lies in its specifications. As with all specifications, these document the capabilities of the different USB versions.

The first-ever version of USB, USB 1.0, specified a transfer rate of up to 1.5Mbps (megabits per second), but this version never made it into consumer products. Instead, the first revision, USB 1.1, was released in 1998. It’s also the first version to be widely adopted and is capable of a max transfer rate of up to 12Mbps.

The next version, USB 2.0, was released in 2000. This version had a significantly higher transfer rate of up to 480Mbps. Both versions can also be used as power sources with a rating of 5V, 500mA or 5V, 100mA.

Next up was USB 3.0, which was introduced in 2008 and defines a transfer rate of up to 5Gbps (gigabits per second) — that’s a tenfold increase from the previous version. This feat was achieved by doubling the pin count or wires to make it easier to spot; these new connectors and ports are usually colored blue compared to the usual black/gray for USB 2.0 and below. USB 3.0 also improves upon its power delivery with a rating of 5V, 900mA.

In 2013, USB was updated to version 3.1. This version doubles what USB 3.0 was capable of in terms of bandwidth, as it’s capable of up to 10Gbps. The big change comes in its power delivery specification, now providing up to 20V, 5A, which is enough to power even notebooks. Apart from the higher power delivery, power direction is bidirectional this time around, meaning either the host or peripheral device can provide power, unlike before wherein only the host device can provide power.

Here’s a table of the different USB versions:

Version Bandwidth Power Delivery Connector Type
USB 1.0/1.1 1.5Mbps/12Mbps 5V, 500mA Type-A to Type-A,

Type-A to Type-B

USB 2.0 480Mbps 5V, 500mA Type-A to Type-A,

Type-A to Type-B

USB 3.0 5Gbps 5V, 900mA Type-A to Type-A,

Type-A to Type-B

USB 3.1 10Gbps 5V, up to 2A,

12V, up to 5A,

20V, up to 5A

Type-C to Type-C,

Type-A to Type-C

Now that we’ve established the background of how USB has evolved from its initial release, there are two things to keep in mind: One, each new version of USB usually just bumps its transfer rate and power delivery, and two, there haven’t been any huge changes regarding the ports and connectors aside from the doubling of pin count when USB 3.0 was introduced. So, what’s next for USB?

USB Type-C isn’t your average connector

After USB 3.1 was announced, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) who handles USB standards, followed it up with a new connector, USB Type-C. The new design promised to fix the age-old issue of orientation when plugging a connector to a port. There’s no “wrong” way when plugging a Type-C connector since it’s reversible. Another issue it addresses is how older connectors hinder the creation of thinner devices, which isn’t the case for the Type-C connector’s slim profile.

Here’s how a USB Type-C connector looks like. Left: Type-A to Type-C cable, Right: Type-C to Type-C cable (Image credit: Belkin)

From the looks of it, the Type-C connector could become the only connector you’ll ever need in a device. It has high bandwidth for transferring 4K content and other large files, as well as power delivery that can power even most 15-inch notebooks. It’s also backwards compatible with previous USB versions, although you might have to use a Type-A-to-Type-C cable, which are becoming more common anyway.

Another big thing about USB Type-C is that it can support different protocols in its alternate mode. As of last year, Type-C ports are capable of outputting video via DisplayPort or HDMI, but you’ll have to use the necessary adapter and cable to do so. Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 technology is also listed as an alternate mode partner for USB Type-C. If you aren’t familiar with Thunderbolt, it’s basically a high-speed input/output (I/O) protocol that supports the transfer of both data and video on a single cable. Newer laptops have this built in.

A USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port (with compatible dock/adapter) does everything you’ll ever need when it comes to I/O ports (Image credit: Intel)

Rapid adoption of the Type-C port has already begun, as seen on notebooks such as Chromebooks, Windows convertibles, and the latest Apple MacBook Pro line. Smartphones using the Type-C connector are also increasing in number.

Summing things up, the introduction of USB Type-C is a huge step forward when it comes to I/O protocols, as it can support almost everything a consumer would want for their gadgets: high-bandwidth data transfer, video output, and charging.

SEE ALSO: SSD and HDD: What’s the difference?

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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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