What is USB-C, and is it faster than other chargers? Get acquainted before the iPhone 15 launch

A USB-C cable (Mishaal Zahed / Unsplash)
A USB-C cable (Mishaal Zahed / Unsplash)

A nine-year-old cable that many of us have lying around the house is about to become even more commonplace.

We’re talking about USB-C, which you probably already use to charge your Macbook, iPad, and PS5 controllers. Soon, it will also power up the iPhone 15.

To get you up to speed with the world’s most ubiquitous cable, here’s a jargon-free guide to USB-C.

What is USB-C?

USB-C is a connector that can transmit both data and power. In terms of looks, each end of a USB-C cord has an oval-shaped, reversible connector that can be plugged in no matter which side up it’s facing. This is because it has pins on both sides of its connector. As a result, it’s much simpler to connect to an electronic device than other cables.

In addition, USB-C allows you to reverse charge electronics. Say your phone battery is running low, you can connect it to a laptop for some extra juice, or vice versa.

The iPhone 15 can charge the latest USB-C AirPods and the Apple Watch thanks to reverse charging (Apple)
The iPhone 15 can charge the latest USB-C AirPods and the Apple Watch thanks to reverse charging (Apple)

What does USB-C stand for?

USB, short for Universal Serial Bus, is essentially a connection standard that refers to the different types of cables used to connect electronic devices to computers. USB-C is one type of cable, along with USB-A, mini-USB, and micro-USB (more on those below).

Because it’s universal, USB is designed to be used by anyone, irrespective of their brand. That’s why you see a USB-C port on Android phones from Samsung and Google, MacBooks (and soon iPhones) from Apple, and gamepads from Nintendo and Sony.

What is the difference between USB and USB-C?

Before USB-C arrived on the scene, the cable you probably encountered the most was USB-A. It can be recognised by its wider, rectangular-shaped connector, with pins on the bottom side. This means it only works if it is inserted correctly.

On the other end of the cable might be a micro-USB (for e-readers and headphones), mini-USB (previously used for digital cameras), and USB-B (for printers).

Despite losing some of its cache in recent years, many devices still boast a USB-A port, such as PCs, consoles, and external hard drives. So don’t expect it to completely vanish any time soon.

Is USB-C faster than USB?

This is where things get complicated. Technically speaking, USB-C is faster than USB-A when it comes to charging and transferring data. But, it all depends on the type of cable you use.


Seeing as many new phones support fast-charging, allowing you to power up the device in as little as 30 minutes to an hour, it’s a good idea to stick to the USB-C connector that comes in the box.

Android phonemakers Xiaomi, OPPO, and Huawei also use a colour-coding system that helps you find whether you are using the right cable. You’ll also need a plug that can support the higher wattage needed for fast-charging via USB-C.

Data transfers

To make matters worse, the different USB cables offer varying data-transfer speeds based on their specification. Although many people wirelessly transfer files and photos using AirDrop or Nearby Share, you can also connect a USB-C cable to a laptop to share documents and media.

While USB-A taps out at transmission speeds of 20 Gpbs, the latest USB 4 cables can reach up to 40 Gbps and are only available in USB-C form. The higher the specification number, the faster the transfer speeds. With USB 4, for example, you can transfer movies and high-quality images almost instantly.

Again, it all depends on the connector you have — so remember to check the packaging before you buy or hold on to the user manual for future reference.

Does iPhone 15 have USB-C?

The new iPhone 15, with USB-C charger, is displayed amongst other new products during a launch event at Apple’s headquarters (Nic Coury / AFP via Getty Images)
The new iPhone 15, with USB-C charger, is displayed amongst other new products during a launch event at Apple’s headquarters (Nic Coury / AFP via Getty Images)

Apple switched from its classic Lightning connector to USB-C in the iPhone 15. If you are upgrading from an older iPhone, this may mean you need to get hold of a new charge adapter.

In the iPhone 15 box, you don’t get one of these adapters, just a USB-C cable. Fortunately, if you have a somewhat recent MacBook or iPad, you can use its power adapter to charge your iPhone.

The official Apple charger for the iPhone 15 series is the Apple 20W USB-C power adapter. This costs £19 direct from the company. However, there’s no need to splash out on one of those.

Apple has used a common standard, called USB-PD (USB Power Delivery) since 2015 in iPads, since 2017 for iPhones. This means you can use all manner of third-party adapters safely, including plenty of those made for Windows laptops that have USB-C charging.

Apple says the iPhone 15 family, right up to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, has a fast-charging ceiling of 20W (20 watts). It said the same about the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 series.

Why is Apple changing to USB-C?

Apple was forced to adopt USB-C after the EU passed a law last year designating it the universal charger for new electronic devices. The regulation was aimed at cutting down electronic waste and making life easier for consumers dealing with a plethora of cables and chargers.

In fact, Apple was heavily involved in the creation of USB-C back in 2012 — along with a group of tech firms including Intel, Microsoft, and HP — although, oddly, it chose to go with Lightning instead.

But, USB-C also has other perks beyond sustainability. If you want to mirror your screen on holiday, you can get HDMI video output at 4K and 60Hz, compared to 1080p via Lightning. Bear in mind, you will still require an HDMI cable and the Apple USBC AV dongle (£75) to connect to a TV.

Meanwhile, audiophiles can achieve high-fidelity sound by plugging their iPhone directly into a digital-to-analog converter using a USB-C cable. This way, you’ll get superior bass and richer audio through the headphones or external speakers connected to your iPhone. Best of all, you don’t need an added dongle as you would with the Lightning cable.