Apple could have made the USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 transition easier

Kirk McElhearn
7 November, 2016
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We knew it was coming. Ever since the 2015 release of the 12in MacBook, with its single USB-C port, it was obvious that this connector would make its appearance on other Macs. But Apple’s recently announced new MacBook Pro with only Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports (plus a headphone jack) may leave you grumbling.

Apple’s insistence on this being a ‘pro’ device has led a lot of actual pros – developers, photographers, designers and video editors – to point out that this new laptop isn’t practical for them. Aside from the limited amount of RAM available (16GB), the main complaint is the presence of only USB-C ports. The new MacBook Pro has four of them, two on each side. But not all those ports are equal: the pair on the left of the US$1799 and US$1999 13in models are Thunderbolt 3, while the right side offers ‘reduced PCI Express bandwidth‘. (All four are Thunderbolt 3 on the 15in version.)

Notwithstanding the high price of this new Mac, and the possibility that the Touch Bar is a truly innovative input device, this new MacBook Pro presents a number of challenges. I’m writing this article on a single-port MacBook, and I’ve become used to dealing with the four dongles or adapters I need for various uses. But the MacBook is not my main computer; I have an iMac, and use that most of the time. Those interested in buying the new MacBook Pro and using it as their principal computing device will need a number of dongles, for the following:

  • USB-A peripherals
  • Ethernet
  • Thunderbolt (to connect to an older Thunderbolt peripheral)
  • HDMI
  • VGA
  • SD cards, and
  • more.

On top of that, you’ll need an adapter to plug your brand new iPhone 7 or its Earpods into this Mac.

Even the Thunderbolt 3 port poses problems. It’s a do-everything port, and it can pass through data using USB 1, USB 2, USB 3, Thunderbolt, Display Port, HDMI and more. Users see a single port, but many devices won’t be compatible, or will need very specific cables to work correctly. (And some USB-C cables can actually damage devices.)

I’m not averse to improving input/output protocols, but Apple is pulling the rug out from under ‘pros’, many of whom may have gone all in on Thunderbolt, which Apple recently touted as the best data transfer option.

Apple could have helped users make the transition. The company could have made a USB-C hub, such as this US$99 Microsoft Display Dock, which would have anticipated the connections that some users would need. Having a simple option would mean that users could buy a single device and use their existing hardware, then, over time, upgrade to devices with newer standards.

Instead, Apple offers a plethora of individual adaptors and dongles, which can cost a couple hundred dollars for users with a variety of peripherals. And the weight and size you gain with the new MacBook Pro? They are more than offset but the weight and volume of the adaptors you’ll need, not to mention the cable spaghetti and the fact that they’re easy to lose. (Note: Apple on Friday reduced the prices of its USB-C adapters.)

Apple’s obsession with lighter and thinner ignores what many users want. This new MacBook Pro will be a complicated device to use for anything other than the basic tasks. Real pros need external devices, and they’re going to have to keep track of lots of cables and dongles to do so.

At least Apple had the courage to keep the headphone jack.

One Comment

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  1. Brett says:

    Apples relentless push for form over function makes the pro moniker redundant as their really is nothing pro about them. The MacBook pros are now nothing more than a faster MacBook. The number of adaptors I currently need to carry is annoying and they frequently are lost or fail. To upgrade to a new model will only add more pain.

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