Apple maintains its standards

Matthew JC. Powell
15 October, 2008
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Apple has a chequered history with industry standards. It was almost solely responsible for popularising USB, for example, leading many people to think it was Apple’s invention (it was Intel’s). Its support of its own FireWire standard has been spotty, and of course it came late to the USB 2.0 party in an attempt to prop up FireWire. And let’s not forget how long it clung to ADB — long after everyone else had abandoned it.

Nonetheless, its use of “standards” in today’s MacBook and MacBook pro announcements was interesting at best, baffling at worst.

For instance, the reason given for not adopting Blu-ray was because it hasn’t really taken hold in the market yet, and until it’s an established standard, Apple doesn’t want to burden its users with the early adoption tax.

Thoughtful, really.

Then there’s Mini DisplayPort. Maybe I just don’t follow the display industry closely enough, but I had never heard of DisplayPort until this morning, much less learned that a “Mini” version had come out. The world moves so fast.

By all accounts though, DisplayPort is hardly what you’d call an established standard. Yes, there’s a bunch of companies signed on to support it and therefore help it become established, but it isn’t there yet. There’s also a bunch of companies signed on to support Blu-ray, including Apple.

Nonetheless Steve Jobs described it as an “industry standard” and announced that Apple would be adopting it across the board (it wasn’t clear whether he meant Apple would be adopting different versions of DisplayPort, just as it had adopted multiple variants of DVI, or whether the Apple standard is going to be Mini DisplayPort). So in the next refresh of every machine Apple makes, it will be dropping the old display connectors and adding this new one.

Which will be fine, if all the displays in the world adopt it too. They haven’t. Most displays still use DVI, and probably will for a while, unless Apple “does a USB” again.

Remember ADC? No, not the Developer Connection, the Apple Display Connector, a display standard that incorporated DVI as well as power and USB. It was fantastic, and at the time DVI hadn’t really taken off so there was no reason not to have a go with something new. The G4 Cube used it, as did Apple’s own displays of the time.

Problem was, almost nobody else adopted it (LaCie was the exception I think). DVI took off, and ADC died a quick death — leaving only owners of ADC-equipped displays who then needed to buy $140 adapters when they bought a new computer to remember it by.

It’s a lot to pay for an adapter, isn’t it? Interestingly, it’s almost as much as you’ll pay for the adapter to connect your new MacBook Pro to your 30-inch Cinema Display. Remember how your old MacBook Pro could run that baby right out of the box?
So we’re not to be burdened by the price of adopting Blu-ray, but we’ll get lumped with Mini DisplayPort whether we like it or not. Because it’s a “standard”.

Apple’s marketing tag line for the new MacBook Pro appears to be “Built to standards that don’t exist yet”. Now you know what that means.

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