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.

iPhone SE: It’s Not About Us, Its About Everyone Not Us

If you’re reading this, chances are that the iPhone SE is not for you. We’re the geeks, the power users that always want the latest and greatest. What we aren’t is the majority, no matter what we think we are, we’re a very vocal minority in Apple’s sales. You’ll hear about how boring the SE is and how Apple should have done more. On the contrary, Apple made the device they needed to. I’ll tell you why.

When moving to larger screens, Apple moved with all deliberate speed. The 5 & 5S were more about moving the iPhone to the industry standard 16:9 than actually making the iPhone screen larger. It was just longer, but that set the table for what was to come. The iPhone 5 also introduced a new metal unibody construction that was thinner and higher quality than previous iPhones. It also introduced the lightning port. The next year the 5S added 64-bit ARM A8 processing and Touch ID, another important stepping stone, and honestly the feature I appreciate most. Being able to use my thumb print instead of my passwords has made the mobile experience much more enjoyable and convenient.

The next generation iPhone 6 and 6 Plus finally ushered in the medium and large screens I had been waiting for since I laid my eyes and hands on the Samsung Note II. Having larger screens was a godsend for me. I could use it. We also saw NFC and mobile payments make their debut on iOS leading to Apple Pay. The 6S generation brought a 4k rear camera and ability to use the screen as a selfie flash.

Apple found something out along the way. While many people were happy about the color choices and features of the new phones, sone size never fit all. Despite the new phones, 30 million people continued to buy the smaller 4” iPhones. Why? Because it fit them and their uses as much as my 5.5” 6 Plus fits me. The iPhone 5S was definitely a great phone, but it was behind of the features. Apple decided it was time for an upgrade. With the iPhone SE, Apple combined the best of the iPhone 5S with the best of the 6S.

While the iPhone SE may be Apple’s least expensive phone at $399, it is not in any way, shape, or form a low end phone. In fact, its one of the most advanced devices on the market. The A9 CPU is lifted straight from the 6S as is the 12mp rear camera and secure element for Apple Pay. The front camera, screen, and Touch ID sensor are the same as on the 5S. That said, decidedly unlike the 5S it has the Retina flash feature. If you’re looking for 3D touch, its not here. But considering the price and reusing the 5/5C/5S screen, I wouldn’t have expected it.

The most surprisingly controversial design element is reusing the 5S casing for the S$, though now with the same 4 colors as the 6S. The opposition to this perplexes me. Its a smart move for the consumer. The 5/5S have a mature and complete accessories market. Other than the design crowd, who would changing an already excellent design benefit?

The big question is who is this for? Let me tell you. First, its for the person who just wants to have an iPhone. This is your mom, dad, aunt, grandparent, etc and just want an easy to use smartphone experience. The other man crowd is people who even the 4.7” iPhone 6/6S to comfortably use. Lastly, its for the Apple Pay user. Apple wants mobile payments in everyone’s hands. Whoever you are, the iPhone SE gives you the high end features of the latest iPhones in a 4” form factor. You get the full iPhone experience at any size without compromise.

With the iPhone SE, the iPhone lineup is complete. If the SE doesn’t float your boat, you have two other options. Small, medium, and large everyone now has an option.

#CES2016: The Year of USB Type-C

USB Type-C debuted in the year world with the iPad-eque Nokia N1 in November of 2014 in its USB 2.0 variety, but the one port to rule them all really came onto the scene with on March 9, 2015 with the unveiling of the ultra-slim MacBook. It was the only port the little notebook needed with USB 3.1, Displayport & HDMI, and up to 100 watts of power mixed into one port barely larger than Lightning or Micro USB. It didn’t take long to understand that this lone port was the future. That was further solidified with Intel with them making Thunderbolt 3 essentially a supercharged version of Type-C with direct access to the PCI-E bus and 40Gbps speeds instead of 480Mbps of the USB 2.0 variant or 5-10mbps of the USB 3.1. It would take a while to get going for sure, but if CES has shown anything it’s that while legacy ports aren’t gone, USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 are here to stay with a barrage of products.

razer-blade-stealth

Computers

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Apple should be very flattered. Just as the MacBook Air became the inspiration of a generation of Ultrabooks, there’s a lot of insanely thin fanless 12″ laptops this year wearing little more than a Core-M and a USB-C port. There’s plenty of options from HP, Dell, Samsung, and LG. Yeah, apparently LG makes laptops now. The creme of this crop seems to be the HP Elitebook Folio with high-end construction and a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports. There might actually be more devices announced with USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 than not.

Likewise, the full power of Thunderbolt is fully realized this year. Acer has introduced its 12.5″ Aspire Blade Switch 12 S 2-in-1. This tablet/ laptop hybrid features Full HD and 4K Ultra HD displays and an Intel Core M CPU with HD515 graphics. This can be enhanced by an external Thunderbolt 3 graphics card in the Acer Graphics dock. Gaming accessory maker Razer takes this concept further with the Razer Blade Stealth. This ultrabook also features a 12.5″ FHD or UHD screen but includes a Intel Core i7 6500 with Intel 520HD graphics. Its external graphics solution is much more extreme. The Razer Core features a 500 watt power supply with 375 watts reserved for graphics, 4 USB 3.0 ports, gigabit ethernet, and a full-length double-slot PCI express slot for a graphics card of your choice. That includes even the most high-end extreme graphics cards on the market. Of course it can also take professional Quadro or FirePro graphics turning it from a Mini gaming monster to a tiny workstation.

acer-usb-c-display

Displays

I fell in love with my AOC 15″ portable display despite some issues with DisplayLink and relatively low quality displays. With USB-C, DisplayLink is no longer needed as USB monitors can natively use DisplayPort and have access to more power. The first USB-C display in the form of ASUS’s MB169C+, a further evolution of the company MB168B+ USB 3.0 DisplayLink monitor. The new version also replaces the 1080 TN panel of the previous version with a much higher quality IPS display. I don’t think this will be the last either.

A lone portable display is far from USB Type-C’s only appearance at CES. It turns out a single connector for video, power, and USB was a bit popular in the medium-to high end range. Acer’s 2016 version of the H7-series comes in 25 and 27-inch Quad HD (2560×1440)flavors and features USB-C, HDMI 2.0, a pair of full size USB 3.0 ports, and a MacBook-friendly gold finish. Lenovo is offering pair of displays in the 24″ Full-HD Thinkvision x24 Pro and the 27″ 4K Ultra HD Thinkvision X1. LG also added a 27″ 4k entry in the 27UD88-W.

Dell However, took first in class when it came to USB-C compatible Displays with the New UltraSharp 30 OLED. As the name gives away, this display eschews traditional In-Plane Switching LCD technology for Organic Light Emitting Diode displays. While OLED technology has become affordable in mobile screens, it is still expensive with larger panels and this Dell is no exception at just a hair under $5 grand. However, it might also be the best 30-inch display on the market. If there is one thing Dell knows, it is professional displays. Dell is also offering a dock in regular USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 variants for use with legacy displays.

lacie-chrome

Storage

Seagate’s stylish and Mac-Friendly subsidiary LaCie hit USB-C hard this year offering products from the affordable and portable LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive and its desktop brother to the high end Chrome. Samsung is also in the game with the portable SSD T3 with solid state capacities up to 2TB.

griffin-breaksafe

Accessories

I Could list every USB Type-C accessory that was announced, but honestly, that might take the rest of my life so I’ll talk about the one that stands out: Griffin’s BreakSafe Charing Cable for the MacBook, Google Chromebook Pixel, and other lightweight USB-C powered laptops. This power only cable has a magnetic break near the connector much like Apple’s MagSafe connectors. In other words, the cord reversibly splits in two instead of sending your computer flying. Why couldn’t have Apple and Google have done this in box?

Other than that, you have a bevy of docks, hubs, and cables from the usual high-class suspects like Griffin, Belkin, Satechi, and Incipio.

macbook-usb-c

The Elephant in The Room

The one company that didn’t announce anything at CES might be the company most looked at for USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3: Apple. They effectively ushered in the USB-C era just under a year ago and have spearheaded convergence of ports through Thunderbolt 1 & 2. In other words, the industry might be getting on it big time, but its effectively Apple’s train.

We won’t be waiting long to find out. The MacBook is nearly a year old and is due for its Silverlake update. Given the amount of similar machines with Thunderbolt 3, I wouldn’t be surprised if the original MacBook is the first and last Mac with just plain USB Type-C. The top of Apple’s line, the Retina MacBook Pro is also due for an update. It was well ahead of its time in 2012, but the Industry has changed a lot. It also uses traditional USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 2. Both are due for replacement by Thunderbolt 3. I’d expect more a complete design than a mere update this go around with the Retina form factor being around for 4 iterations.

While it could drag on into March, I suspect we’ll see the first Thunderbolt 3 Macs by the end of spring.

The Tech Hangout’s “Review” of the iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 Betas….

Grade: Incomplete.

That they’re both in beta and will likely change making any attempt to review them at this time moot. Further more, the quality of user experience isn’t up to what you’d expect in a finished product with features and apps buggy because the code isn’t finished yet. If this sounds like we’re trolling all the other sites who live off of them, damn right we are. Also, unless you’re a developer or a tech journalist willing to take the risks of buggy prerelease software that may void you Apple warrant, just leave the betas alone and wait until the finished product.

Oh yeah, did I mention to just say no to pre-release software?
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Rumors of Apple Watch’s Demise are Far Too Premature

You’ve probably seen it spattered all over town, the Apple Watch is dying, sales are down 90%, its a flop. It’s based on data from a service called Slice, but there’s a lot more story on how these stories used that data. 99% of a story is context and those figures are way out of context.

According to data MacRumors was able to obtain from Slice, Apple sold roughly $3 million Apple Watches through July 10th. To put this in perspective, the original Pebble old 1 million watches in just over two years and there were roughly 750,000 Android Wear devices its first year on the market. This is despite the average Apple Watch having a much higher average price tag than either of these devices.

Apple’s sales were highest during the launch and have tapered off since then. I don’t doubt Slice’s data, but there are some facts that need to be considered. First off, as MacRumors point out, Slice’s data is based almost exclusively on Apple Store online sales in the US. It does not include most International Sales and it does not include In-Store sales. Sales figures are further constricted by availability. The initial launch was so taxing on the supply chain that Apple did not have enough supply to launch the Apple Watch in its own stores or expand to other countries until late June.

As of today, while you can get a Fitbit, Pebble, or Android wear device in almost any population center in the US larger than 50,000 people, you can’t buy an Apple Watch at any third party retailer. If customers can’t get their hands on a product at a retailer, quite literally with a wrist worn device, they cannot buy it. High traffic as Apple Stores are, big box retailers such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Target (and their global counterparts) as well as carrier stores are a major part of a product’s sales volume. One more thing… we have no direct data from Apple on Apple Watch sales.

However there are some valid points in some arguments against the Apple Watch. In its current form with watchOS 1.0, it is very much a 1.0 product. Features don’t work as well as they should and Apple didn’t give developers the full deck to play with. Apps, in particular were run through the companion iPhone and didn’t have access to the watch’s sensors like they needed. That changes in watchOS 2 which will presumably launch before the holiday quarter. There’s more features, native apps that run on the watch, and the apps get full access to hardware. In other words, Apple’s getting the kinks out now when sales don’t matter as much as they would in late October, November, and December when you would assume the majority of Apple Watch sales would take place.

The Apple Watch is a victim of Apple’s success. People don’t remember when the iPhone 1 launched with 4 apps or when the iPod only had firewire. Even the iPad struggled its first go around and that was with a more mature version of iOS behind it. They expect a mature, fully developed product out of the gate and that creates a bias. It also creates a lot of hits when you mention Apple in a headline, especially in the negative sense.

So here are the key facts of the situation

  • Apple has sold over 3 million Apple Watches.
  • There has been a decline in those sales since launch.
  • Apple has had severe issues with availability.
  • The Apple Watch has only been in Apple’s own stores for a couple weeks.
  • Apple Watch has only appeared in additional countries the last few weeks.
  • The Apple Watch appears in no third party retailers in the US.
  • The Apple Watch is a recently released and immature platform
  • The Apple Watch software is getting a major update in the fall.
  • the Apple Watch has not seen a holiday quarter.

The most important two:

  • Slice does not include most international sales nor walk-in sales
    and
  • We have absolutely no data from Apple.

Rather than jumping to conclusions for headlines, how about we take a step back and wait until the holiday quarter numbers are out in early 2016 before we make any conclusions. Shall we?
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