Editorial: There are Other Options to the 2016 MacBook Pro’s Dongle Life

Look, I respect the living hell out of The Verge’s Lauren Goode. She is one of the best tech journalists out there today. If you’re not following her and reading her stuff, you’re doing yourself a real discredit. If it sounds like I’m just buttering her up to bring everything crashing down, that’s because I pretty much am. I didn’t want to write a rebuttal of someone I respect or revisit this topic, but I thought this was incredibly one-sided.

Lauren wrote a piece and filed an associated video for the verge called Is it worth living the dongle life for the new MacBook Pro and iPhone 7? for the Verge. The article takes a rather extreme angle, showing the worst case of the new Thunderbolt/ USB-C MacBook Pro without exploring other options. Despite what a lot of people are saying and writing, there are other options. We’ll now go over what other options could have been taken.

In each Exhibit section in the video, there is a Black shirt wearing Lauren with a 2016 MacBook Pro debating a flannel wearing version with a 2011 MacBook Pro. This was the last version with an optical drive, Firewire, and a traditional 2.5” form factor hard drive. The 2016 Lauren is surrounded by an army of various adapters and the new headphone-less iPhone 7.

Exhibit A

2016 Lauren is looking to charge her phone. She picks through a myriad of mini-hubs and Lightning to USB-A adapters. Not present in any form is the simplest solution: Lightning to USB-C. Apple offers them in 1m and 2m lengths for $19 and $29 respectively. You can expect that go down as third-party MFI versions hit store shelves. You can bet they are coming fast now that there’s a market for them.

The fact ignored here is that USB-C IS USB, not some abnormal Apple variant. You don’t need an adapter, you need a cable.

Exhibit B

In Exhibit B, the Laurens are trying to listen to music. 2011 Lauren simply places her 3.5mm headphones into the jack on her older smartphone while 2016 Lauren looks for Lightning splitter adapter and Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. This is a clunky solution, but there are other options.

I’ve never run into it. Why? Because I am extremely happy with a pair of an affordable pair of bluetooth earphones that I bought earlier this year. I press the power button, they automatically pair and I listen to my music. No adapter or even cable required. I have yet to use either the included Lightning EarPods or the adapter. By the announcement of the Ear Pods and three different sets of wireless beats, this is what Apple intended.

Exhibit C

Exhibit C is 2-point. 2016 Lauren is looking for a wait to put her pictures from her camera on her computer. Of course the only way is the SD-reader right? Nope, there are also more options here.

First, you can directly hook up the camera to the MacBook Pro. In many ways, this faster than digging out the SD card. You would need a USB-C to USB A adapter as many cameras use a proprietary form of miniature USB-B, but those are available in leading retail stores for under $10. You could also purchase an external reader, but what if you didn’t even need a cable at all? Most cameras of the last couple years include wireless capability built-in.

The other part of the Exhibit was transferring photos from a Thunderbolt hard drive to your Thunderbolt 3 Mac. If you have a Thunderbolt Drive, you will need the Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt 3 adapter. However, let’s be honest here, the Thunderbolt hard drives are very rare. Pretty much everybody, Mac users included, have USB 2.0 or 3.0 for single drive units. These will need either the afore mentioned C to A adaptor or a Mini/Micro-B to C cable. You can get those on Monoprice easily and cheaply.

Exhibit D
Exhibit D is kind of a rehash of part of Exhibit B. 2016 Lauren receives a phone call and fumbles around with adapters while she misses the call. Oh please. I am either wearing the aforementioned bluetooth headphones or simple just pick up the iPhone and answer the call.

The Cost of Adapters

2011 Lauren asks 2016 Lauren how much all of it cost. If you would have all the adapters Lauren has in front of her, its not cheap. However, you don’t need all of those adapters. There are other, more cost effective and many cases better solutions out there.

The Dongle Life Isn’t Unique to the 2016 MacBook Pro

Let’s say that 2011 Lauren wants to to charge her phone, her smart watch, plug in a mouse, plug in a hard drive, she couldn’t do it all. Why? Because that MacBook only has 2 USB ports. You need a USB Hub, a type of adapter to plug all devices in. Ironically with 4 ports that could be used for USB, in a couple ways, the 2016 model is more flexible. The 2016 MacBook wasn’t designed to place undue hardship people. It realizes the change in how people use our computers. I survived the change form ADB, serial, and SCSI to USB and FireWire. I survived FireWire to Lightning. I survived like half a million different ways to connect a computer to a display. You will to.

The Fuss over Thunderbolt MacBooks Is Much Ado About Nothing

There was a rumor that new MacBook Airs and Pros were slated to be announced on October 27th. That rumor became fact yesterday when Apple announced the first major redesign to the MacBook Pro line since WWDC 2012 and the first laptop to be completely rely on Thunderbolt 3 and USB-Type C. How will be the transition from USB Type-A and Thunderbolt 2 to the single connector of USB Type-C? Its not going to be near as difficult as the media may lead you to believe.

USB Type-C is just another USB

USB Type-C is NOT replacing USB. USB-Type C IS USB. its just USB that is smaller and more flexible. What that means is everything still works. You may just need a different cable for it. The USB standard has multiple different connectors: The two most common varieties are the standard Type-A and Type-B as they exist in USB 1.0 and 2.0. They are the rectangular connector on your computer, the smaller connector on your printer, and the cable that runs between them. Your Garmin has Mini-USB and your cell phone has Micro-USB. There’s also modified versions of these for USB3.0 that have more pins for faster speeds. In addition to connector types, USB is available in speed ranges from 12Mbps in USB 1.0 all the way up to 10Gbps in the newest USB spec USB 3.1 Gen 2.

That’s far too many connector types. the Type-C connector was designed to replace them all with a single connector that could be used anything from cameras to phones to computers to even You don’t need any kind of adapter, you can just buy a cable with USB-C on one end and your printer, hard drive, audio interface, etc will work as it always has. This is more akin to the transition from Firewire 400 to Firewire 800 or DisplayPort to MiniDisplayPort than legacy ports to USB.

Availability of Type-C

The USB Type C is nothing new at this point. Its available on two generations of the Retina MacBook, most middle to high end PCs bought in 2016. A quick check online shows Belkin, Apple, and other branded cables of various types of cables available from your typical who’s who of big box retailers. Online sources like Amazon and Monoprice go even further. Its also fairly easy to find a a USB power supply that will work with your MacBook or PC of choice. Yes, with USB-C being non-proprietary you can grab any power supply you want as long as it produces enough power for you PC.

Here is the one caveat: There are multiple reports of USB Type-C cables that do not meet spec. If ordering from from Amazon, make sure your cable is on Engineer Benson Leung’s List for full compliance. This isn’t an issue you should find in retail stores though.

Availability of and Need for Thunderbolt 3

If I have to be honest, this is where the sticking point will be. Cables are available, but devices are not outside of external graphics enclosures for gaming PCs. Complicating matters is that Thunderbolt 3 is essentially a new ecosystem. The only real devices prior to launch were a couple RAID enclosures, some docks, and a few rather pricy and bulky Thunderbolt 1/2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapters. Apple made it a bit easier with their own Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapter which is far less bulky and half the price of third-party options at $50. The Apple cable is bidirectional so it can not only adapt your Thunderbolt 2 devices to a new MacBook Pro (and presumably everything else going forward), but also take future Thunderbolt 3 devices with the USB-C Connector and use then on your existing Mac.

Right now Thunderbolt 3 is nowhere near as mature an environment as the USB Type-C. Further more, in its latest form, USB-Type C has gained speed and computer to computer networking that were previously Thunderbolt’s territory. The number devices that need a Thunderbolt connection may not be as many in the future.

Apple is right to be pushing ahead here. The future is one connector to rule them all. All transitions have some degree of difficulty. Thunderbolt 3 has to exist in the wild before devices exist for it. Same with Thunderbolt, FireWire, SCSI, and whatever exited before that. You may not want to get into new I/O at this time and nobody is forcing you to. If you’re not ready to move on, there is no shame in that.

Its The Era of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3

New MacBooks with New I/O isn’t something to fear, it’s just time. Apple isn’t putting an undue burden on its users, as I’ve shown here, unless you have a large Thunderbolt accessory collection, its not really much of a burden. USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are going to make your lives a lot easier. Let’s embrace that instead of wasting time resisting an inevitable change.

Apple Refreshes Retina MacBook

Last year, Apple announced the 12″ Retina MacBook ultraportable. Today, the machine got its first update. There’s a lot of things you’d expect and others that are a little surprising. Let’s take a look at what the 2016 model brings.

The 12″ is based around a 2304 x 1440 Retina display. This doesn’t change neither does the casing itself the difference is what’s inside. The Broadwell Core-M has been traded out for its updated Skylake Core M3 counterparts. The new CPUs share the same clock speed, but are a bit more powerful. According to Apple, the new Intel Integrated HD 515 graphics are a not insignificant 25% more powerful than the HD 5300 of last year. The chips are also more efficient offering an additional hour of run time now between 10 and 11 hours. The flash storage has been upgraded to a faster PCI-E standard and system memory is now 1866mhz.

For I/O, you still have two options: a 3.5mm headphones jack and a one-size fits all USB 3.1 Type-C jack. Many, including myself expected this port to be upgraded to Thunderbolt 3 with Skylake. That will presumably happen with updated MacBook Pros later this year. However, given the tasks this Core M-powered machine is expected to perform, one could argue that Type-C was good enough.

Pricing and configurations for the 2016 MacBook are the same as the 2015 models starting at $1299 for the base model. You can still order your MacBook in silver, space gray, and gold with fan favorite Rose Gold adding the fray for 2016. The MacBook’s predecessor, the MacBook Air also received a minor refresh with all 13″ models now coming standard with 8GB of memory.

Source: Apple