Connecting to the USB-C Port on the IPad Pro

IPad Pro connecting accessories via the USB-C port

Having been a recipient to many of the family IT hand-me-downs, including an IPad 2 and an IPhone 6 – my Dad decided to break custom and practice, in getting himself a brand spanking new IPad.

I was fully supportive, but having made the most of the price matching in the 2019 January Sales I got a couple of texts from him pointing out that he liked the rounded corners, there was no home button and the charging cable is different … he also mentioned that he was looking forward to using his new IPad for delivering talks and presentations at his local Probus meetings hosted at a venue boasting a projector and a TV screen.

Having used the previously handed down I-Products for a number of years myself – tech support has been pretty straight forward. However, my Dad had now taken a giant stride ahead in the technology stakes and the proud owner of an IPad Pro – so I had to knock together a bit of a feature list and user-guide, explaining the benefits of the new USB-C port.

Having put this together I found things are not as straight forward as they seem, so thought it may be useful to share the facts as they are today – as there may be a few others in awe of the leading edge specification implemented on the new IPad Pro.

Previous generations of Apple’s IPad going back to version 2, have utilised the Lightning Port for tasks such as charging and peripheral connectivity, but today’s 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro feature this USB-C port rather than the Lightning port. My Dad was convinced that Tim Cook was just trying to make life difficult for him and force the purchase of new hardware. However, you will be pleased to know that this is not just a ploy to make redundant the many Lightning cables you will have collected with previous Apple purchases over the years, as it does come with enhanced capability and a new range of connectivity features and options. The first point to note is that there is already a fair bit of hardware sporting the USB-C port. However, this does not mean that any hardware with the USB-C connector will work with the iPad Pro. Whilst there are still limitations, USB-C however – is an easy and convenient way to connect stuff such as displays, cameras, and other accessories to the IPad Pro.

If you look a bit closer at the Apple range, you will find the USB-C connector in a few places. With the exception of the 12-inch MacBook, the MacBook USB-C ports are actually Thunderbolt 3 ports which enable extremely fast data transmission speeds, with the ability to drive multiple displays and a whole range of devices daisy chained from a single port.


However, the IPad Pro does not have Thunderbolt. The port on the IPad Pro is actually a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port. This means the connected IPad Pro can foreseeably drive a maximum of 10 gigabits per second, which puts hardware such as the 5K monitor delivering 60 frames per second in the range of high end possibilities. The potential is massive – but also some points to be aware of.


Connecting External Displays


IPad Pro connecting external displays via the USB-C port

The new IPad Pro connects to USB-C displays, that communicate over the DisplayPort standard (not Thunderbolt) in a straight forward manner. A cable with USB-C plugs at either end of the cable are required to connect hardware such as the – 4K LG UltraFine display. The IPad can deliver the HDR10 output so the compatibility list also extends to displays such as the – 27-inch LG 27UK850.

The IPad Pro connected in this way does not just mirror the screen, it also provides enhanced options to better utilise multiple displays. For example – Keynote will show the presentation slides on the external display and speaker’s notes can be displayed of the screen of the IPad Pro. It is also possible to connect a TV to broadcast youtube and Amazon movies to the big screen. Its also worth noting that the feature set is a little limited when compared with connecting multiple displays to my Mac.

Another key learning point is that the USB-C cable that accompanies the iPad Pro in the box cannot be used for connecting to a display such as this. The boxed cable is not designed to support ‘high bandwidth connections’. It is however likely, that the USB-C to USB-C cable included in the box with the display will work fine as it is designed to support the high bandwidth of the display it is boxed with. If however a separate cable purchase is necessary the Apple website makes the recommendation of the – Thunderbolt 3 cable from the Apple Store. Another key learning point is that even though the IPad Pro does not implement Thunderbolt – Apples – recommended Thunderbolt cable has USB-C connectors designed for the high bandwidth and hence is compatible.

It must also be born in mind that although the IPad Pro is capable of driving 5K displays, the – LG 5K UltraFine display sold at the Apple Shop will not work at this is a Thunderbolt 3 display. 5K USB-C displays are not in abundance at this time, but recommendations will be made once something comes along.

To satisfy the Probus challenge Dad will likely need to connect the IPad Pro to – dare I say legacy hardware such as a widescreen TV and/or Projector via an HDMI port rather than USB-C. Hence an adapter will be required. The IPad Pro is compatible with an adapter which supports to HDMI 2.0 delivering 4K resolution at 60Hz. In fact the specs suggest support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision via compatible hardware. Again recommendations will be made once I have seen something working.

The Apple recommended adapter for connecting via HDMI is the Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter. This enables the IPad Pro to connect to HDMI via its USB-C port and adds HDMI, passthrough USB-C port for power, also a standard USB-A port. The Apple recommended adapter is capable of delivering 4K resolution at 30Hz. There are also USB-C to VGA adapters which are ideal for connecting to legacy monitors and projectors – in fact, by way of an update there is an adapter which facilitates connections to VGA or HDMI in the same adapter.


Device Charging


IPad Pro device charging via ISB-C port

The IPad Pro USB-C port can act as a power source for connected devices, delivering up to 7.5 W charging power. A real world example is the USB-C to Lightning cable, which will facilitate IPhone charging using the IPad Pro as the power source.

Third party accessories utilising USB-A can also be connected to tap into the 7.5 W of power, just plug them in. Links to – USB-C to USB-A adapters are listed below.

There is also an adapter which enables USB-C connection to Apple Watch.


Importing video and photos from external storage


IPad Pro importing video and photos using the USB-C port

Current operating system limitations prevent straight forward visibility of files contained on an external drive connected via USB-C.

Photo’s can however be imported into the Photos App from USB storage devices connected via the USB-C port.

A similar method can be used with digital cameras, some feature USB-C or mini-USB ports. Again examples of suitable adapters are listed below,

Apple’s own USB-C to SD Card reader works in the same way. Connected to the IPad Pro with SD card inserted, enables photos and videos to be imported from the SD card. The higher speed transfers utilising UHS-II cards are also possible. There as some alternative, cheaper SD card USB-C adapters listed below also.


Connecting keyboards and wired ethernet


IPad Pro connecting to an ethernet network via the USB-C port

The IPad Pro comes with drivers for many types of USB accessories pre-installed.

For example a USB-A keyboard can be connected simply by using a USB-A to USB-C adapter. Of course Apple Bluetooth keyboards or the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio are more likely choices, but you never know.

Another thing the iPad supports is Ethernet, so your iPad can actually use wired networking to improve performance as required. You can get a USB-C Ethernet dongle and hardwire gigabit Ethernet to your iPad Pro. The IOS Settings screen will magically show a new section for Ethernet, when it is detected.


Connect to speakers, microphones or audio MIDI devices

The iPad does not have a headphone jack. You can use the Apple USB-C to headphone jack adapter to plug into wired headphones or speakers. If you have USB-C headphones, they will plug in directly and just work.

You can also connect audio devices like MIDI keyboards, or microphones, using USB. In some cases, the 7.5 watts the IPad Pro outputs via the port will be sufficient to power smaller accessories, so the USB-C cable is all that is needed. Accessories that need more power will work as long as the USB bus is sufficiently powerful. Apps such as GarageBand can also communicate with MIDI accessories.

A USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter is an ideal way to connect/power MIDI devices. Ignore the HDMI output, connect power to the passthrough USB-C port on the adapter and plug the accessory into the standard USB port. The accessory will then draw power through the USB-C charging.


Connect to multi-port hubs

Due to the higher bandwidth possible with USB-C, multiple accessories may be driven from a single port using an appropriate hub. Some hubs combine multiple ports with SD card reader, a micro-SD card reader and 3 USB-A ports. Usual USB limitations apply with connectivity being limited by available power. Apple has a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter which is actually a hub – featuring HDMI, power input, and an additional USB-A port for additional accessories.

Conclusion – most of this connectivity is achievable on previous IPads via a range of adapters. However – replacing Lightning with USB-C expands the range of IPad Pro connectivity mainly due to the higher bandwidth capability delivered by USB-C. Use of the IPad Pro as a Power/Charging Source is something new although it remains to be seen if that will become more than a gimmick. Dad’s Probus talks/presentations will go ahead having already purchased a range of adapters to facilitate connection to a range of legacy peripheral hardware. Have a look at some of the items discussed below.


Last update was on: 06/07/2020 21:53
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