The Awkward Dongle Years

The new MacBook series has made the switch from USB and Thunderbolt 2 to all Thunderbolt 3. Glenn Fleishman did a pretty good job breaking down the new order of things on Twitter:

Just to be clear:

  • USB-C ports can’t handle Thunderbolt 3 devices
  • TB3 ports can accept both TB3 and USB-C devices

He even goes so far as to link out to a quite excellent CNET article1

In fact, device manufacturers are so confident in the new USB-C standard that Intel announced last year that Thunderbolt 3, once thought to be a USB replacement, will use the same port type as USB-C. This means every Thunderbolt 3 port will also work as a USB-C port and every Thunderbolt 3 cable will work as a USB-C cable.

I think the next few years will be awkward and actual real-world use of MacBooks will look more like the lone airport electrical outlet than the sleek design in the Apple presentations. The price of a dock will seem too expensive and many people will opt for a death by a thousand dongles. But, I think this is a transitional period leading to a much better future. Just look at what Glenn suggests these new MacBooks can drive:

MacBook/Pro lineupL MacBook: 1 external 4K 13” MBP: 1 5K or 2 4K 15” MBP: 2 5K or four 4K

That’s looking pretty good to me. I think it sounds pretty good to Dong Ngo at CNET too:

It will take a few years more for Type-C become to become as popular as the current Type-A on the host side, but when it does it will simplify the way we work with devices. In fact, Intel is even working on a USB audio standard that might render the 3.5mm audio jack obsolete. And with the addition of Thunderbolt 3 now being the super-set of USB-C, eventually, we’ll just have only one type of port and cable to connect all peripheral devices to each other and to a computer.

  1. I’ve actively avoided CNET for the past 5 years but Dong Ngo does a nice job with this review. It’s still too much paging but the over the top advertising of CNET seems to be moderated now. Congratulations to the editors for their victory over marketing. ↩︎