Microsoft could be working on a USB-C Surface connector

Laurent Giret

Last month, Microsoft launched its new Surface Laptop and Surface Pro 2-in-1 tablet in select markets, and reviews for both device have been positive so far. If you’re really picky though, you may not like the fact that both devices are almost impossible to repair, and Microsoft also received some flak for not future-proofing its latest Surface products with USB-C ports.

That’s right, Microsoft is sticking with its own proprietary Surface Connect port for now, even though the company apparently created a Surface Laptop prototype with two USB-C ports. Surface Chief Panos Panay recently teased an upcoming USB-C dongle for the Surface Connect port, but the exec also made it clear that USB-C is not ready yet for mass market adoption. “The last thing I want is to take away the port they need today and tomorrow and the next day, to achieve a technology milestone where I then put a barrier in front of my customers,” he explained.

All hope is not lost though, as the company is apparently working on a new USB-C connector which could be used in future Surface devices. MSPoweruser spotted that Microsoft filed a patent for an “Electronic connector with C-shaped tapered extension” back in February 2016, which was finally granted to the company this week.

According to the description, the USB-C connector will keep the magnetic capabilities of Microsoft’s Surface Connector, though it will be tapered and shorter than standard USB-C ports.  “A relatively short plug that is tapered is thought to deliver an enhanced user experience when compared to a conventional USB TYPE-C plug,” the description notes.

The connector will have both charging and data transfer capabilities, though there is an important catch though: Microsoft says that it will only support USB 2.0 speeds, which is surprising as USB-C ports usually support the faster USB 3.0 or 3.1 protocols (or in some cases, the even more versatile Thunderbolt 3 protocol). But according to Microsoft, this compromise was necessary to create a port that is easier to plug:

 The connector described herein allows for power and USB 2.0 (12 or 480 Mbps data) through the connector plug and cable. The described connector does not include the super-speed signal lanes of typical USB TYPE-C implementations. As such, the plug need not include typical USB TYPE-C EMI shielding. As a result, the length of the plug is less than the length of a typical USB TYPE-C plug. The resulting shorter plug facilitates an easy plug attach/detach. It may be appreciated that other signaling rates are possible, but at higher frequencies the EMI may become an issue.

The connector is shorter than standard USB-C connectors.

Please note that the patent description doesn’t mention the Surface brand specifically, but the different pictures shows a connector that almost looks like Microsoft’s current Surface Connect port. It remains to be seen if Microsoft will use this design in future Surface devices, though the company may want to wait until USB-C really becomes an industry standard.