2015, according to Marty McFly, promised us some exciting technology; hoverboards, Nikes that tie their own laces and 3D sharks jumping from billboards. Unfortunately none of this has happened yet, but then, we have been treated to the all-new MacBook from Apple. If you fancy owning a laptop that looks something like Kanye West’s toilet seat, you can buy the new model in gold, but the main talking point from Apple’s March 2015 Special Event wasn’t the MacBook itself. Specific attention was shifted towards its ports, or lack there of.
Apple, in their usual bid, like to be pioneers in eradicating defunct technology (floppy disks, CDs and Flash to name a few). Now USB ports are on the chopping block in favour of the newer USB C technology. There are some real advantages to USB C, it can take power, data and screen connections through one little port. It’s faster and it’s smaller. It can handle 100W of power, meaning power bricks will become a thing of the past. The connection itself is reversible too, so you can pop in the cable in without the annoyance of jamming it in upside down – now that’s a real breakthrough for 2015 in my book. Forget the auto-lace Nikes.
USB C is the way forward, but it’s not the use of the technology that had everybody squawking. It was that Apple decided to include just one, lonesome USB C port. The Twittersphere erupted with the usual hate, and most likely death threats to every employee, past and present of Apple. Ok, so that may be going a little too far but for an average user, the single USB port is frustrating. You can’t plug it into a screen and charge at the same time, a function most people require in the office environment. You can’t charge your phone and laptop simultaneously, or even copy pictures of your cat to a USB stick at the same as being connected to, well, anything else.
It’s clear Apple are gunning for a wireless future, and in theory this is a great idea. Wireless data transfer has been around for years. Wireless charging and screen connectivity will also be commonplace by the time you’ve typed your next Apple death threat. But until then, Apple expect you to plug a clunky USB splitter into the side of your laptop. It’s about as inviting as dragging an ugly trailer behind your brand new Mercedes because someone designed a car boot that can only hold one shopping bag.
Perhaps Apple have jumped the gun a bit with their port cull – even their own products don’t quite yet support the wirelessness they seem to be pushing (cue wireless charging in the iPhone 7). But it’s important to remember that the new MacBook isn’t really a replacement for all MacBooks. It sits a lot closer to the MacBook Air family than anything else. You might just find that MacBook Pro users are treated to not one, but two USB ports. Maybe.
There is, however, one thing that baffles me completely about the new MacBook. Apple are keen to move their hardware forward, yet they’re still rolling out a piece of technology which is over 100 years old and has remained relatively unchanged for its entire life. It pretty much features in every piece of hardware Apple currently produce. You use it, your parents used it and Marty McFly definitely used it. Drumroll please… It’s the headphone jack.
By Apple standards, sticking with the headphone jack feels like they’ve jumped into the DeLorean and travelled back in time. Why eradicate the USB, yet stick with a connection that’s the same as the one used on telephone switchboards back in the 19th century? I’m not saying the jack should be thrown out just yet, but it does seem slightly incongruous from Apple’s side.
Common thinking is, it won’t be long before Jack gets killed by Tim anyway. Apple’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats is a clear sign they want to expand on their new headphone empire, moving towards an entirely wire-free experience. But I guess we’ll have to wait until the March 2016 Special Event to find out if the jack gets the sack. In the meantime, let’s hope for that hoverboard. There’s still 9 months to go.