CES 2019 offered a glimpse at our glorious USB-C future

USB-C is still a long way away from achieving its potential, but at CES this year, we started to see what a richer USB-C future might look like. We saw “portable” monitors that were able to take both video and power from a connected laptop, we saw docks featuring all of the connectors that have been stripped from USB-C laptops, and, of course, we saw USB-C headphones.

Getting everyone on the same page when it comes to USB-C adoption has somehow proven to be exceptionally challenging, whether it’s popular products that refuse to ditch Micro USB (yes, that means you, Kindle) or others that have plunged us into dongle hell by switching to it wholesale before the ecosystem exists to support it. Going USB-C-exclusive will remain the preserve of the dedicated for a little while longer, but these new devices show we’re getting there.

USB-C Monitors

Monitors showed the most of USB-C’s potential at this year’s show. Once you see a single laptop both sending video data and power to two HD displays, having one connector to rule them all starts to make even more sense.

That’s exactly what LG Display did when it showed a single MacBook Pro plugged into two 27-inch USB-C monitors. These displays weren’t plugged into the wall. They were drawing their power entirely from the laptop. Yes, this meant that the MacBook’s battery ran down precariously quickly, but as a proof of concept, it’s still pretty cool.

The Lapscreen has a 12.5-inch display and is 8mm thick at its widest point.

However, with a 27-inch screen, LG Display’s prototype wasn’t exactly portable. That’s not a problem faced by the Lapscreen, a dinky little 12.5-inch display designed to work with either your phone or your laptop. It’s still only HD, but we’ll forgive it in light of its diminutive size, which measures just 8mm thick at its widest point.

USB-C headphones

After it became clear that Android manufacturers would join Apple in ditching the headphone jack, the headphone industry faced a choice: it could move to producing USB-C and Lightning headphones, ditch the wires entirely, or continue producing 3.5mm headphones in the hope that people will use the dongles that came with their phones.

The industry has pretty conclusively decided to go wireless, but there were still a handful of USB-C headphones announced at this year’s CES.

Moshi’s Avanti C headphones connect to your phone via USB-C.
Image: Moshi

Moshi had the biggest presence at the show with two USB-C models to show off. The on-ear Avanti C are the more expensive of the two at $200, while the in-ear Mythro C cost just $50. Both feature a built-in DAC, which supports high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/96kHz. The Avanti C comes out in February, while the Mythro C is available starting today.

While Moshi went all in, HyperX hedged its bets a little, with two gaming headsets that came with a choice of three cables, a USB-A, USB-C, or analog 3.5mm jack. While we’re still going through our transitory phase, this is ultimately what we’d hoped more companies would offer, but it’s still a relative rarity.

Finally, Belkin also announced a pair of USB-C in-ear headphones alongside a Lightning connector-equipped model.

Chargers, docks, and other accessories

Ultimately, it’s the little things that can make USB-C a little bit of a pain right now. It’s those moments where you need to quickly grab some images off an SD card or charge a phone that’s about to run out of battery, only to suddenly realize that you’ve left your little bag of dongles at home.

These problems are only going to be truly solved once USB-C becomes the default, and that can only happen when we have a rich ecosystem of accessories that feature the connector.

Third-party USB-C to Lightning cables, like this one from Belkin, are finally here.
Image: Belkin

So let’s start with USB-C to Lightning cables, which are now finally available from third-party manufacturers like Griffin and Belkin. Apple still refuses to bundle a USB-C cable in with the iPhone, but there will now be third-party models available that are cheaper than Apple’s own cable so you won’t have to splash out too much if you want fast-charging.

Unless you’re always charging from your MacBook, USB-C charging cables require USB-C power outlets. Thankfully, CES saw a couple announced by Satechi. Anker’s small and powerful Atom PD 1 charger also got a January release date after having been delayed by a couple of months. If you need portable power, there were also portable battery pack announcements from Mophie and OmniCharge.

This prototype flash drive packs 4TB of storage.

USB-C storage also got a small boost, thanks to a prototype flash drive from Western Digital with a massive 4TB of capacity. It’s a prototype, so don’t expect it to be in shops anytime soon, but it’s an interesting indication of where we’re heading.

Finally, there were USB-C hubs aplenty at CES this year, which give you access to the various ports that many manufacturers have removed from their devices after switching to USB-C. Anker had a model that can double as a battery pack, Targus had one that features four HDMI outputs, and there were more traditional docks available from HP and Elgato.

By themselves, none of these products are going to solve USB-C’s problems. The standard will be a Wild West for a little longer, and you’re not going to be able to throw away your dongle bag just yet. But we’re getting there, and these CES products prove it.


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