An easy-to-miss feature of the newly redesigned 12-inch MacBook has ended up getting a lot of attention: of all things, the USB port. That inconspicuous plug, known as USB Type C, is the only port (other than an audio jack) on the latest version of the MacBook. Google this week also announced a new Chromebook Pixel with two USB-C ports, and Nokia has already included USB-C on one of its tablets.
That is not sitting well with some Mac users -- who might need ports for a phone, an external drive, a printer, a camera, an iPod, a mouse, and a video monitor, as well as charging the MacBook at the same time. But that one USB-C port is expected to play a huge role going forward.
The reason why has to do with versatility. USB-C enables the transfer of power, data and even video signals, all at the fastest rates. As it's deployed in the new MacBook, USB-C is letting Apple save space and money in the ultra-thin laptop by combining all the other ports usually seen on the side of a laptop into one.
USB-C is a high-powered, much more flexible rendition of the familiar USB ports that have been a staple of laptops since the 1990s. USB-C is reversible, so the cables work no matter which way they're plugged in. It can also deliver more power more quickly, meaning users can use USB-C to connect big external devices like monitors and hard drives to the laptop. Also, because USB-C allows energy to flow either to or from a laptop, users can charge a phone from it -- or have the phone charge the laptop.
The power and speed of USB-C is the reason Apple was confident enough in it to provide only one port on the 12-inch MacBook. While that could become an issue for users, USB-C allows them to overcome that by the port being compatible with after-market adapters and splitters.
Just to equip the new MacBook with a minimum of single-purpose ports that are seen on other laptops, for example, would require a dongle along the lines of Apple's Digital AV Multiport Adapter, which splits the USB-C port into a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C charging port and a mini-HDMI video port, all for $79 extra, which is what has some Apple fans upset.
Docks and hubs may become a crucial carry-along item if a single USB-C port becomes the standard in other laptops going forward. The connector will also work with standard USB hubs, as long as you go through an adapter first.
As the ports come with new laptops, look for product makers to make them compatible. Belkin and SanDisk already have their first USB-C gadgets, and since USB-C is to be an industry standard, cheaply made cables will work with the format.
USB-C ports are small enough to fit on most mobile devices, which means applications for the new format are almost endless. Eventually we might be able to ditch all the standard USB, miniUSB and microUSB variations we see on smartphones and tablets today.
Posted: 2015-03-14 @ 12:51pm PT
USB-C is great evolution but frankly the way Apple deals with it is a step back because it will force the user to lug too many adapters and hubs, all in the name of design purity. Apple went too far. I will not buy a laptop with just one port. Four is the minimum (one power, one display, two devices); and an SD card reader is also a must now that I have got used to those little inexpensive things that have replaced all removable media.
Posted: 2015-03-13 @ 3:16pm PT
What happened to the thunderbolt technology? The rate of change in port technology adoption by Apple is not great for its customers.