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Limited ports limit my interest in new Mac laptops

As I sit here working on my late 2013 13″ Retina MacBook Pro (rMPB from here on), I wonder if it will be the last Mac laptop I ever own.

That’s a strong statement, I know, but Apple’s pursuit of an insanely stupid “as thin as a knife edge at all costs” design goal has led to a new generation of machines that make them much less portable than they were before…despite being thinner and lighter.

Here’t the thing, Apple: Beyond a certain point, thinness is irrelevant. And honesty, you’ve more than reached that point with every laptop you make. You reached that point, in fact, a few years ago.

There are many things I love about my 2013 13″ rMBP, including the variety of ports it includes:

MagSafe Power • 2x Thunderbolt 2 • 2x USB3 • HDMI • SDXC card slot

All of those ports (plus headphone jack and dual microphones) are packed into a very small and light chassis: It’s .71″ (1.8cm) thick, and weighs 3.46lbs (1.57kg). The new (non Touch Bar) 13″ MacBook Pro is .59″ (1.49cm) thick and weighs 3.02lbs (1.37kg).

Substantial reductions, to be sure. But to what end? The new machine comes with two USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports. That’s it. Two. Much of the time, one will be taken up by the power adapter, leaving just one.

Yes, my laptop weighs .44lbs (.20kg) more than the new one. But consider the actual use case of a trip with the laptop: I’d have to pack my bag with any number of adapters and add-ons, which will not only make up the weight difference, but add substantial bulk to my luggage. (Note that I’m not considering the newly-required USB-C cables for connecting my iPhone, for instance; I need to bring a similar cable already, so it’s just a change in cable type.)

If I want power and more than one other thing connected, I’ll need some sort of multi-outlet USB-C adapter. And that adapter needs to include an HDMI or VGA connector, too, if I want to use an external display. If I want to read my camera’s memory card, that’s another adapter and cable.

Or I could go for the full-on dock solution, like the OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock. But that’s a sizable chunk of hardware to drag around, and at nearly $300, it’s not cheap. If I did have such a Mac, though, this does look like the best solution. Just look at all those ports!

If I went for the 13″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I’d get four USB-C ports, but that doesn’t solve the camera card issue. And it means I’d have to buy a Mac with a Touch Bar, which I have zero interest in doing. (I’ll cover my disdain for the Touch Bar in a future article.)

What about other Mac laptops? There are only two: The MacBook and the 13″ MacBook Air.

  • MacBook: One USB-C. One? Seriously? That’s zero after connecting power.
  • MacBook Air: With the removal of the 11″ machine, the remaining 13″ offers a decent selection of ports (MagSafe, 2x USB 3, Thunderbolt 2, SDXC card slot), but it’s a non-retina screen, and much slower than my current 13″ rMBP. I’ll be surprised if they sell this model for much longer.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Apple changing their feelings towards ports in the future, which means I may be using this 13″ Retina MacBook Pro for many years to come. At some point, they’ll probably introduce a compelling-enough machine to make lugging the OWC dock around a viable tradeoff. Until then, though, I’m sticking with my port-loaded 13″ rMBP.

4 Comments

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  1. Based on good reviews I got a Satechi “Satechi Aluminum Muti-Port Adapter 4K HDMI, Type-C Pass Through, Ethernet, SD/Micro Card Reader, and 3 USB 3.0 Ports” ($80) at work for when someone brings in a usb-c only mac. I got the bigger version with pretty much everything except firewire. It was smaller and lighter than I expected with good fit and finish. I haven’t had the chance to thoroughly test it yet, but a user did let me use his 12″ MB for some brief fiddling, and it worked fine (didn’t test hdmi). I don’t know yet if a connected drive can boot the mac (probably not, it’s a rare feature for docks even with usb-a), and the ethernet won’t show up when booted into recovery (only apple’s 100Mb adapter can do that trick).

    http://www.satechi.net/index.php/satechi-type-c-hub-with-pass-through-for-charging-ethernet-port-4k-hdmi-output-sd-micro-card-reader-3-usb-3-0-ports-silver-615

    It’s true that the user gets stuck with the extra expense of a dock, but that’s nothing new. I’ve had to buy several firewire to thunderbolt adapters at $30 a pop, and those have no versatility at all. My real problem with the new mac laptops is the everything-is-soldered, especially the SSD. If there’s a problem with the logic board or power supply and there’s also a problem with a recent backup (or there isn’t one), Apple or expensive drive recovery services would be the only recourse. Removable drives are easily dealt with on the spot.

    I have mixed feelings about the only one port type thing. I personally like a variety of ports, but usb-c is moving forward fast in all computing hardware. Apple is pushing hardest just now, as they did for usb-a but it does seem to be heading towards ubiquity. In the long run, having everything be the same port could be a good thing. Though the usb-c standard is so complex and ‘versatile’ that it could also turn into a nightmare of no way to tell which adapter is the right one out of a dozen in the box that all look alike.

  2. Indeed weird. Same thoughts here… Design is great but not at the expense of usability. I like my ports, use FW everyday, like my SD card slot. Also, like to be able to add memory and or other bigger SSD. So still on my late 2011 MBP I7, with 16Gb and 1Tb SSD… Blazing fast!
    Same goes for iPhones without 3.5mm headphone jack. Same goes for ridiculous big screens. Thats why still on recently bought 4S with 64Gb, do not like to be dependent on iCloud or internet!

  3. I agree. I just want to shout out, “OKAY APPLE! YOU’VE MADE THEM THIN AND BEAUTIFUL. WE KNOW! ENOUGH ALREADY!”

    Functionality should not be the cost for making thinness. After all, the very reason many of us switched to Apple products was functionality.

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