Is USB finally going to kill the desktop?

USB 3.1 connector
An artist's rendering of USB 3.1

Intel revealed more details about a revision of the current USB 3.0 specification called USB 3.1 at IDF 2014 in China. That update was announced last year by the USB Promoter Group and is likely to be formally approved within months.

That new specification would come with a new connector called USB Type-C that will replace both the standard connector and the microUSB one. It'll be bi-directional, reversible and more robust than the current designs.

Other than the bump in speed (5Gbps to 10Gbps for the Gen 2 version), the other big announcement is that it will be able to provide up to 100W (5A @ 20V) of power to a multitude of devices, which paves the way to reinvention of the traditional office desk.

USB 3.1 could well be the technology that allows power cables to disappear completely as monitors and laptops turn to USB connectors to transfer data and provide power.

A unified desktop experience

That single connector platform model would also accelerate the demise of the traditional desktop computer paradigm.

A laptop could potentially drive two or more daisy-chained monitors without the need for a dedicated graphics card, with displays turning into permanent, desk-bound hubs.

A monitor could even power (and charge) a laptop through the same USB cable that links both together, while supporting a wide array of small devices like a webcam, input peripherals, speakers etc.

Already though there are criticisms about the new design, more specifically targeting the so-called tongue design which many consider to be much less reliable compared to Apple's MagSafe power connector, which is magnetic.

If all goes to plan, products supporting the new connector are likely to appear by the end of the year with smartphones sporting it expected to hit the market at MWC 2015 although during the (long) transition phase, one can predict a surge in converters and adaptors.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.