Tag Archives: MacBook Pro

Nintendo’s Gone USB? Now, There’s a Switch!

A confession: I almost didn’t get this blog post out in time, because I’ve been immersed in the massive world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on my new Nintendo Switch. I’m not going to go into detail about how I had to wait in line for a few hours on launch night to get mine–those who pre-ordered would admonish me for poor planning, and those who didn’t get theirs when they wanted feel bad enough as it is.

Nintendo Switch Launch Event - Day 1

One of the many launch-night lines. Mario’s got to be wondering why none of the cameras are pointing at him. Source: GoNintendo.com

This week’s post is about the surprising move to the increasingly mainstream USB-C connection standard for the Switch’s charger. Faithful readers may remember my discussion of the new USB-C connector when Apple incorporated it—and nothing else—into their latest MacBook Pro at the end of 2016. Does this mean the days of having to pack multiple chargers and cables are at an end? Well, maybe.

img4303

The USB-C charging port at the bottom of the Switch. Source: CNet.com, click photo for their article, “Zelda at 30,000 feet: Playing the Nintendo Switch on a plane.”

It’s true that the Switch does get its power from a USB-C AC adapter. When placed in its included dock, the power cord fits in a compartment in the back, hidden by a discreet plastic panel. The other end is a beefy transformer brick, so make sure you have room on your power strip or wall outlet for it. To be safe, I invested in APC’s P11VT3 SurgeArrest Surge Protector, with its six widely-spaced outlets.

f9f7b186-5056-ae36-fee50f8156e4f588_pr

So much room for activities! Source: APC.com, click photo for more info.

But what if I didn’t want to use Nintendo’s included power brick?

It’s not an entirely absurd question. The charm of the Switch is that it is entirely portable, as much a successor to Nintendo’s Game Boy and DS handhelds, as it is to their Wii and Wii U set-top consoles. When out of the tabletop dock, the Switch charges off a USB-C port on its bottom. Nintendo’s thinking, I’d wager, is that gamers who plan on traveling with their Switch in “handheld” mode will leave their dock plugged in to the home power outlet; and that those gamers will invest in a second Nintendo Switch charging brick to keep in their officially-licensed Switch Carrying Case while on-the-go.

And that is indeed a solution, if a bit clunky.

switch-ac-adapter-cropped

The official Switch charging brick. Note that the cable is not removable. Source: SlashGear.com, click photo for their “Switch Buyer’s Guide.”

The dream of USB charging is only to have to carry one power brick, and only one charging cable. The cable is a separate piece in this dream, because you may need to use it to sync data between devices while not charging. USB is a multi-faceted standard, after all. The problem as I see it comes from the power needs of the various devices that employ USB-C chargers.

Let’s start with that MacBook Pro from last year. The 13-inch model uses a 61 Watt power adapter, and the 15-inch model uses an 87 Watt adapter. Their little sibling, the 12-inch MacBook from 2015 and 2016, uses a 29 Watt USB-C adapter. Apple’s official line is that the higher-wattage adapter will work just fine on devices with smaller power demands, but not vice versa. That is to say, go ahead and charge the 12- or 13-inch laptops with that 87 Watt 15-inch adapter, but don’t try to juice up your 15-inch laptop with only 29 or 61 Watts.

87w_usb_c_power_adapter___apple

Apple’s 87W USB-C Power Adapter, cable sold separately (of course it is). Source: notebookcheck.com

Okay, great, so I can use that charger on my Switch?

To determine the Switch’s power needs, a little electrical engineering math is required. The official Switch AC adapter outputs between 5 and 15 Volts at 2.6 Amps (most likely depending on whether the Switch is docked or not). Multiplying 15 by 2.6 gets 39 Watts, so the MacBook Pro adapters—be they 61 or 87 Watts—should make short work of delivering power to anything that needs less than that.

One mustn’t ignore those pesky Amps, though. The power supply you want to use must match or exceed your device’s needs, both in power (Wattage) and electric current (Amperage). My 29W MacBook adapter, for example, outputs either 14.5V at 2.0A if the attached device supports the USB Power Delivery (USB PD) standard; or 5.2V at 2.4A if it doesn’t.

amps-times-volts-672x372

The “West Virginia” Formulas. Source: twoicefloes.com.

The Switch, as discussed in this Reddit thread, does indeed support USB PD. Since the Switch charges best at 2.6A or higher, my MacBook charger just falls short of the current needs; but it’s also about 10W shy on the power front, so it’s a non-starter either way.

That 87W MacBook Pro charger, on the other hand, delivers a maximum of 20V at 4.3A. Unless something goes horribly wrong, the Switch’s circuitry is smart enough to pull only as much power as it needs, at the highest current it can handle. The 87W charger can deliver all 15V and 2.6A without breaking a sweat. So that will work for your USB-C-equipped MacBook (or Pro), as well as your Switch.

But what if you want to use a multi-port charger?

This is where it gets tricky. In my living room, I have an Anker PowerPort Speed 5 USB Charger in a convenient spot next to my couch. This lets me juice up my phone, plus any other four USB-charged devices I can think of. For reference, my iPhone 7 comes with a 5W charger: 5V at 1A, so I’m in good shape as long as the PowerPort delivers at least that much per port.

From Anker’s website: “The Speed Series was created for one single purpose: To deliver the fastest charge possible to any and all USB devices.”

a2054111_nd01_v1

Anker’s PowerPort Speed 5 USB Charger. Source: Anker.com.

Utilizing Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 power delivery standard, the PowerPort outputs between 3.6 and 6.5V at 3A (19.5W); between 6.5 and 9V at 2A (18W); or between 9 and 12V at 1.5A (again, 18W). Insufficient to juice up my Switch (which, for the record, does not support Quick Charge or Dash Charge, according to this write-up.)

The PowerPort is split up, with two QC3.0 ports (the blue ports in the photo above), and three “PowerIQ™” ports. The PowerIQ™ ports output 5V at 4.8A, with a limit of 2.4A per port. Again, not enough Voltage, not enough Amperage. I mean, it’s fine for my iPhone, just not for my Switch.

That’s fine. I expect to have to upgrade some of my charging accessories when I get a new gadget (remember that new surge strip I bought?). So I went back to Anker’s website to see what they could do for me and my Switch.

I started with their PowerPort 5 USB-C (below).

a2052111_td01

Anker’s PowerPort 5 USB-C. Source: Anker.com.

 

 

From their spec list: “1 USB-C Port: 5V 3A max” This may actually do the trick, and here’s why: if you’ll recall, the Switch charger outputs between 5V and 15V. If I’m looking for a handy side-table solution for recharging the Switch when it’s out of its set-top dock, I may only need 5V; and since 2.6A is the current requirement, the PowerPort’s 3A spec meets that requirement, as well.

I was feeling adventurous, so I perused the rest of Anker’s selection, to see if they offered any USB charging solutions with higher Voltage. Their PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery outputs between 5V and 15V at 3A, or 20V at 2.25A, a maximum of 45W in any scenario.

a2053111_td01_v1

Anker’s PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery. Source: Anker.com.

I feel more confident ordering the PowerPort+, since it boasts USB PD support (just like the Switch, and even my MacBook charger). My rule of thumb is to match as many of the “manufacturer’s accessory” specs as possible, and this does just that.

Interestingly, Anker currently doesn’t sell any chargers with more than one USB-C port. I kind of get it. It’s still a new technology, and they’d certainly want to avoid any further problems with the spec, like they had last August.

But some of us also want to recharge our Nintendo Switch Pro Controller (sold separately, of course), which also uses a USB-C port!

nintendo-switch-hands-on-11

The Switch Pro Controller, shown with its USB-C cable attached on top. Source: CNet.com.

I imagine in most scenarios, the Pro Controller will charge on the side table (off that PowerPort+, for example); while the Switch sits docked across the room, by the TV. When it’s time to leave the house, the Switch comes out of its dock and the Pro Controller stays home. The Switch can then travel with its own one-port charger—be it from Nintendo, or another reliable supplier (as long as that charger meets the specs); or a multi-port charger, again, like the PowerPort+.

Anker’s chief rival in the USB charging space, Aukey, does offer a charging station with two USB-C ports, the Amp USB-C 6-Port Charging Station with Quick Charge 3.0.

aukey-amp-type-c-6-port-usb-charger-with-quick-charge-3-0-usb-c-cable

Aukey’s 2-USB-C Charging Station. Aukey colors their QC ports green, as opposed to Anker’s blue ports. Source: AliExpress.com.

But look at the specs from Aukey’s site:

(Quick Charge 3.0): 3.6V-6.5V 3A   |   6.5V-9V 2A   |   9V-12V 1.5A

Remembering that the Switch (and by extension, its Pro Controller) does not support QC3.0, you’re probably not going to get that 6.5V/3A charge from either port.

For now, if you want a multiple-port solution that can charge a Switch OR its Pro Controller (but not both at the same time), I’m recommending the Anker PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with USB Power Delivery. If you only need one port, you might as well stick with Nintendo’s own charger.

One final word of warning: since USB-C is still so new; and since it’s always tempting to get the least-expensive cable you can; make sure you get a trustworthy USB-C cable to plug into your new charger, whatever you plan on powering. A good place to start is http://bensonapproved.com. From their website:

All USB Type-C (USB-C) Cables and Accessories are not created equal. Some will charge most efficiently, others might just fry your battery. Google Chromebook engineer and Caped Cable Crusader Benson Leung has been testing USB Type-C (USB-C) cables off Amazon, and it’s not just the no-brand products that have been failing. Benson’s campaign mostly consists of ordering USB Type-C (USB-C) cables off Amazon, testing them to see if they meet the minimum standards or if they’re just knock-offs, and then leaving Amazon reviews. Cables and chargers fail in all sorts of different ways, although incorrect resistors seem to be a common problem that Benson’s been finding. bensonapproved.com lists all USB Type-C (USB-C) Cables and Accessories approved by Benson. For more info follow us on Twitter @bensonapproved or contact us at bensonapproved@gmail.com.

how-i-use-android-benson-leung-100633284-primary-idge

Benson Leung, Standards Upholder. Not a bad example to set. Source: ComputerWorld.com.

For the record, here are Benson’s recommended USB-C to USB-C cables.

So that’s this week’s post. If you’ve already gotten your Switch (or it’s on the way), I hope this post proves useful, and you can enjoy your new Nintendo system worry-free. After all, from one Zelda fan to another, “It’s dangerous to go alone.”

takethis

Now, more than ever. Source: SecretToEverybody.com.

 

Oh, and if you refuse to get a new console when it first comes out, then this video is for you:

 

Advertisements

LG’s new 5K Monitor Draws Sideways Looks

It’s an unspoken understanding in the world of computers and technology: when you buy a manufacturer’s most expensive, highest-end device, it’s supposed to be the “best” in the line. This has been the conventional wisdom at Apple for years, but today’s post is all about the frustrations that come with their latest “flagship” device, the new UltraFine 5K Display from LG.

hkn62_av1

LG’s latest monitor, now with Apple’s seal of approval. (Source: Apple.com, click photo to go to the Apple page for this display)

First off, the conundrum: why would Apple’s newest monitor come from a third-party manufacturer? That’s anybody’s guess. Since nearly the founding of the company, Apple had made their own displays, going all the way back to the Apple Monitor III in 1980. The last standalone display manufactured by Apple was the 27″ Thunderbolt Display, introduced in July 2011, and discontinued in June 2016.

1317358652-apples-newest-version-of-thunderbolt-display-mc914lla-2

Apple’s last in-house display, the 27″ Thunderbolt Display. (Source: 9to5mac.com)

Apple proudly unveiled their partnership with LG, in the form of the new “UltraFine” Display line, at their October 27, 2016 keynote.

The monitor was intended to complement Apple’s new flagship notebook, the 2016 MacBook Pro. This notebook is the first from Apple to feature Thunderbolt 3, a technology I discussed in a previous post.

I’m sure the new display works like a charm on the new notebook, connected natively through the new Thunderbolt 3/USB-C cable. The problem I encountered came when I connected the new monitor to Apple’s flagship desktop, the Mac Pro.

mac-pro-gallery3-2013

“Remember me?” (Source: Apple.com)

The cruel irony is, that while the Mac Pro was unveiled to a great deal of fanfare in 2013,  they haven’t kept up its momentum in the past three-plus years. This may change (and I certainly hope it does), but as of this writing, the Mac Pro is currently running older interfaces than its notebook siblings the MacBook and MacBook Pro. And this is where the first issue arose.

LG’s 5K display has five connection points on its back: standard AC power, one Thunderbolt 3 in, and three USB-C out (shaped the same as the Thunderbolt port, of course—markings designate which is which). Connection is a cakewalk to an equivalently-designed notebook via the included Thunderbolt 3 cable: plug it into a 2016 MacBook Pro or even a 2015 or 2016 MacBook, and you’re all set. But what if your computer doesn’t have the appropriately-shaped port?

9to5mac-files_-wordpress-com201701lg-ultrafine-5k-display-rear-ports-thunderbolt-3-usb-3-1-power-1bef9e1e9dc7d39fe2f691cf6785f38337388c8c

The ports on the back of the 5K UltraFine Display (Source: 9to5mac.com)

Solution: Apple sells adapters. Of course they do.

thunderbolt-3-2-1236x720

Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter, shown here plugged into a 2016 MacBook Pro’s Thunderbolt 3 port. (Source: SlashGear.com)

The one I got takes the USB-C shape and adapts it to fit a standard Thunderbolt 2/Mini DisplayPort cable (see the photo above). That Thunderbolt 2 cable then plugs into the corresponding port on the computer, and the connection is complete. Interestingly, Apple does NOT sell a cable that adapts the Thunderbolt 2 port on the computer, to fit a Thunderbolt 3/USB-C cable, such as the one included with the new LG monitor. If I wanted to plug the 5K UltraFine Display into a Thunderbolt 2 port via this adapter, I was going to have to buy a Thunderbolt 2 cable. Of course.

Fine; I got the cable, and the adapter, and I was able to plug this new whiz-bang monitor into my client’s Mac Pro cylinder. The picture came up bright as day, and all was well, until my client explained that he needed to rotate the screen 90 degrees into “portrait mode.”

giphy

Viewing a rotated display can be tricky if you don’t have the right settings. (Source: giphy.com)

Now, this isn’t necessarily a non-starter. The latest iteration, macOS 10.12, “Sierra,” supports rotation at 90, 180, and 270 degrees, via the “Displays” pane in System Preferences. Once I had the monitor connected, and suitably rotated on a VESA arm, (remember those?)  I went into the Mac Pro’s settings to rotate it the 90 degrees. I selected the rotation, and then… blackness.

set-mac-display-rotation-os-x

macOS’s “Rotation” option in System Preferences/Displays. (Source: osxdaily.com)

Luckily, the rotation setting needs the user to confirm the new setting; if you don’t click “Confirm” within 15 seconds, the screen reverts to its original orientation.

I was surprised to see this feature, which allows users to view documents and websites in space-efficient upright orientation (see below), wasn’t working on this monitor when connected to such a powerful Mac; especially when it had worked just fine on my client’s previous monitor, a 32″ Sony display from 2013 (same vintage as the Mac Pro, remember). Why would anyone take away functionality?

2012_06widescreen_wastedspace

The same monitor in landscape (left) and portrait orientations, here highlighting the benefit of the latter. (Source: keyliner.blogspot.com, click the photo for a 2012 discussion on monitor rotation).

I contacted LG to get to the bottom of this riddle. They explained that they don’t support rotation, and that was that. I arranged to pick up the monitors to ship them back to Apple; and the hunt for new, rotation-friendly screens continued in earnest.

I brought my Thunderbolt adapters and cables back to the Apple Store where I bought them (unlike the LG display, these were not a special order, so I could walk them back into the store to make the return). Once the return was completed, I went over to the display table where an identical LG 5K display was connected to an identical Mac Pro. I demonstrated to the Apple folks what happens when you select 90 or 270 degree rotation. (Amusingly, Mac Pros have no problem flipping the picture 180 degrees on the 5K display, but that’s not what my client needed.) I told the Apple team about what LG had told me, that this display was not rotatable, so there you have it…

Until I went over to another Apple display: this time another 27″ LG 5K monitor, connected to a mac mini. For fun, I selected rotation, and it worked!

mac-mini-vs-mac-pro

Amazingly, the $499 mac mini (right) can do something the $2,999 Mac Pro (left) can’t? (Source: macheat.com)

LG’s stated “non-rotation” policy notwithstanding, here’s my theory on why this may be.

The 2014 mac mini has a maximum external resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels at 60Hz when connected via its native Thunderbolt 2 connection (adapted for a Thunderbolt 3 screen). This is known as “4K” resolution (because “3.84K” sounds less impressive).

The 2013 Mac Pro, on the other hand, outputs a maximum external resolution of 5120 by 2880 pixels via Thunderbolt (proper 5K, you see). When connected to a lower-resolution monitor (such as my client’s Sony screen), the resolution peaks at whatever the monitor can handle. The Sony’s resolution was a mere 1366 by 768 pixels, so it had no problem performing the graphical gymnastics required to rotate the screen. Likewise, a lower-resolution computer (such as the Apple Store’s mac mini) isn’t going to push the limits of the 5K LG monitor; so again, rotation isn’t a problem.

The issue only seems to occur when a 5K-capable computer attempts to rotate the picture on a 5K display. Now, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to test this hypothesis on 5K displays from other manufacturers, such as Dell or Philips; but since we’re focusing on computers and monitors both sold under the Apple imprimatur, LG is the relevant brand.

In the meantime, my client has decided rotatability is a higher priority than monitor resolution; so we’re now shopping for displays with 4k–or even lower–resolutions. I suppose that’s a more sensible course of action than, say, keeping the 5K monitors and swapping the Mac Pro for a mini.

Given LG’s recent headaches with wifi interference, it’s probably for the best that we keep looking, anyway. I’d hate to have to switch computers, and then have to move everything to the other end of the room, away from the wireless router. My client is fiercely brand-loyal to Apple, so it’s a good thing these screens are made by LG… hey, maybe THAT’S why Apple decided to let somebody else make them! ■

 

Thunderbolt 3? USB Kidding Me!

On October 27, Apple announced their new MacBook Pro will be equipped with only one kind of data port: Thunderbolt 3.

From Apple’s Thunderbolt page:

“Thunderbolt 3 offers a connection with state-of-the-art speed and versatility. Delivering twice the bandwidth of Thunderbolt 2, it consolidates data transfer, video output, and charging in a single, compact connector. And with the integration of USB-C, convenience is added to the speed of Thunderbolt to create a truly universal port.”

So, that’s Thunderbolt 3… and Thunderbolt 2… and USB-C? Huh?

Let’s break down some of these interfaces, starting with their shapes.

PLUG #1

type_a_usb_connecter_alt

The USB Type A Connector. Source: Wikipedia

USB’s Type A connector is rectangular, 15.7mm wide by 7.5mm tall. It’s often difficult to tell which way is “up,” so it’s sometimes necessary to flip the plug to connect it correctly.

THE STANDARD

Universal Serial Bus (USB), first released in January 1996.

THE SPECS

usb

Many USB 3 plugs use color coding to distinguish them from older, slower 2.0 cables. Keep an eye out for a blue tip.

220px-connector_usb_3_imgp6024_wp

The blue tip indicates this is a USB 3 cable. Source: Wikipedia


PLUG #2

mdp2hdmi-c

Source: Startech.com

This connector is narrower than USB-A, at 7.5mm wide by 4.6mm tall. It has beveled edges at the bottom of the plug, making it a little easier to eyeball which way it needs to go into the port.

In addition to the plug’s shape, markings on the connector may indicate which standard the cable in question follows: Apple’s Mini DisplayPort; or Thunderbolt, co-developed by Intel and Apple. The easiest way to tell a Thunderbolt cable from a Mini DisplayPort cable is to look for the “bolt” symbol on the plug:

thunderbolt-connector-100054566-large

The Thunderbolt logo indicates that this is more than just a Mini DisplayPort cable. Source: MacWorld.com

A Mini DisplayPort plug may not have any markings on it, or it may have the “display” logo on the plug:

300px-mini_displayport

Likewise, this should only be used to connect a monitor to a Mini DisplayPort on your computer. Source: Wikipedia

THE STANDARDS

Mini DisplayPort, first released in 2008; and Thunderbolt, first released in 2011.

Apple embraced Mini DisplayPort as their monitor connection of choice, starting with their late 2008 notebooks, and then into their 2009 desktops. The only latecomer of their notebooks was the 17″ MacBook Pro, which featured Mini DisplayPort in early 2009.

Thunderbolt, which provided the monitor connection as well as high-speed data rates for hard drives and multi-port docks, replaced Mini DisplayPort on Macs in early 2011. By late 2013, it was standard on all Macs except the 2015 MacBook (more on that model in a bit).

A computer’s Thunderbolt port is backward-compatible with Mini DisplayPort cables and displays, but not vice versa. For example, Apple’s now-retired 27″ LED Cinema Display (produced from 2010 to 2013) will work in either Mini DisplayPorts or Thunderbolt ports, but their almost identical-looking Thunderbolt Display (2011-2016) will only work in a Thunderbolt port.

THE SPECS

dptb

Featuring twice the speed of its predecessor, Thunderbolt 2 came standard on the late 13” and 15” 2013 MacBook Pro Retina models; the late 2013 Mac Pro cylinder; the late 2014 Mac mini; and the 11” and 13” Early 2015 MacBook Air. The MacBook has never included Thunderbolt (again, more on that model in a moment).

So at this point, around 2013, we have two plug shapes, with two formats now capable of delivering 10 Gigabits per second, or more. USB 3 was backward-compatible with its previous versions, and Thunderbolt 2 was backward-compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and Mini DisplayPort.

And then, in 2014, the shape of things changed, yet again. Enter USB Type C.

NOTE: For the purposes of this post, I’m skipping past USB Type B, which is just the house-shaped plug often found at the other end of a standard USB cable. It’s the end that plugs into a printer, a desktop hard drive, or other peripherals.


PLUG #3

usbc

A USB-C cable. Source: LaptopMag.com

This is the dream, realized. A symmetrical plug, with no “wrong” way to plug it in.

Apple did beat USB to the punch in 2012 with their proprietary, symmetrical Lightning connector, but that was only utilized by the iPods, iPads, and iPhone of the time, onward. It was never featured as an interface on any of Apple’s desktop or notebook computers.

And yes, “Thunderbolt” and “Lightning” is a confusing coincidence. 

USB Type C is actually quite similar to Lightning at first glance. USB-C is 8.3mm wide by 2.5mm tall, and Lightning measures 6.7mm wide by 1.5mm tall.

Apple hasn’t indicated any plans yet to replace Lightning with USB-C.

THE STANDARDS

USB-C first came on the scene in 2014, in the Nokia N1 tablet, initially released in China.

It provides the full data rates of USB 3.1 standard (SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps), as well as the capability to charge mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets (such as the aforementioned Nokia N1).

While Apple sticks with Lightning for their iPhones and iPads for now, USB-C is becoming the go-to charging and data port for Android mobile devices from brands like LG, HTC, Asus, Lenovo; and it was the interface for the late, lamented, combustible Samsung Galaxy Note7 (but the general consensus is that the charging cable was not responsible for the fires: https://www.cnet.com/news/why-is-samsung-galaxy-note-7-exploding-overheating/)

https://www.cnet.com/videos/share/samsung-explains-what-went-wrong-with-exploding-note-7-battery/

Apple may be sticking to Lightning for iPhone and iPad for now, but they took a leap in April 2015 to USB-C as the sole port in their resurrected MacBook line.

macbook2015

The first-ever Mac powered by USB. Source: abc.net.au

It was the first Mac to use the same port for data and for charging—a controversial move, as this meant no other peripherals could be plugged in while the computer was charging…unless users connected an adapter, such as the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter (sold separately, of course).

Intel launched Thunderbolt 3 in June 2015, incorporating the increasingly popular USB-C plug shape, and retiring the old “Mini DisplayPort” connector.

THE SPECS

tb3

Much like how Thunderbolt 1 & 2 were backward-compatible with Mini DisplayPort; and how USB 3 Type A was backward-compatible with USB 2 and 1, Thunderbolt 3 is backward-compatible with USB-C devices (but not vice-versa).

So USB and Thunderbolt have now converged. The upshot is, all your USB and Thunderbolt devices will still work if you get a computer with Thunderbolt 3 ports… you’ll just have to buy new cables or adapters to plug them in. Alternatively, you could invest in a dock, such as this 13-port solution from OWC. It’s pricey, but it allows you to use your current peripherals and their own cables, instead of having to adapt each one for the new port shape.

Because this is the shape of things, now… at least, until a new standard comes out.

standards

◼︎

 

 

Hit the Road, Jack: Saying Goodbye to a 3.5mm Hole

On Wednesday, Apple announced that their new iPhone 7 would be the first in the line not to have a dedicated headphone jack. This was met with some controversy and consternation, and I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on the matter.

i7bottom

The lonely Lightning port of the new iPhone 7. (Source: WhatHiFi.com, click photo for their article.)

This is Apple’s M.O.

The first thing that surprises me about the response, honestly, is anyone’s surprise at the move. Apple is notorious for moving away from older technology when they create new devices, or new versions of existing devices. Here’s a brief timeline:

2macs

The original Macintosh (right) and the first iMac (left). (Source: MacWorld.co.uk)

1984: While IBM-styled PC manufacturers are still including 5.25” floppy drives, Apple unveils the first Macintosh computer, equipped with the smaller, yet higher-capacity 3.5” diskette drive. Apple’s last computer with a 5.25” drive would be in their II (“two”) series, the last of that line being 1988’s  Apple IIc Plus. PC makers would eventually phase out the 5.25” floppy by the early 1990s.

1998: With the iMac, Apple courts controversy again by removing the 3.5” diskette drive from this new all-in-one form factor, opting strictly for optical media; first in the form of CD-ROM, then DVD-ROM, and finally, rewritable DVD “SuperDrive,” first appearing in 2002’s Flat Panel iMac. Apple would remove the “floppy” drive from its laptops, as well; 1999’s PowerBook G3 would be the first Apple notebook to exclude the diskette drive, in favor of an optical drive.

2008: Speaking of laptops, Apple invents a new model, the MacBook Air (below), boasting unprecedented (for Apple) thinness and lightness in a fully-featured computer. One feature that is notably absent is its optical drive.

mbair_side

2008’s wafer-thin MacBook Air. (Source: nextmedia.com.au)

Apple is confident, not only that users could rely upon the optional USB SuperDrive for their disk-based needs; but that program installations and media downloads would be performed over the internet, instead of coming from CDs and DVDs. This change coincides with the growth of the iTunes Store (selling music in 2003, TV shows in 2005, and movies in 2006); followed by the arrival of the App Store in 2011, from which users could download their programs directly from Apple, instead of having to insert an installation disc. Ambitiously, Apple both predicts and precipitates the massive shakeup of the disc-based media and software industries.

Apple would eliminate optical drives from its iMac and MacBook Pro in 2012, and it would redesign the Mac Pro desktop tower in 2013 and MacBook in 2015, each without optical drives as a matter of design.

2015: The aforementioned MacBook (below) marks another design change by tossing out all ports but one universal USB-C port for both charging and data interface.

macbook2015

2015’s redesigned MacBook. Note the single port on the corner. (Source: abc.net.au)

This move would be a boon to the after-market USB hub industry, for users who need to plug in more than one device at the same time, to say nothing of charging the battery in the process.

As history has shown, the iPhone 7’s removal of the headphone jack is just the latest in a long string of bold moves. Anyone who wasn’t prepared for it just hasn’t been paying attention.

Thin is In

During his segment of the keynote, Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, asked the question outright: “Why we would remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone?” He would go on to answer:

Our smartphones are packed with technologies and we all want more. We want bigger, just brighter displays. We want larger batteries, we want faster processors, we want stereo speakers, we want Taptic Engines, we want all of that and it’s all fighting for space within that same enclosure. And maintaining an ancient single purpose analog big connector doesn’t make sense because that space is at a premium.

019532833_40100

Phil Schiller’s inside look at the new iPhone 7. (Source: Reuters)

And he’s right. We demand a certain thinness from our mobile devices (as long as they’re not prone to bending, as was the case with 2014’s iPhone 6 Plus, shown below).

Removing the analog headphone jack not only frees up that much space on the phone’s shell, but it also allows for further technological expansion inside the phone. This could result in longer battery life, more processing power, or ideally, both.

This also means the removal of an oft-taken-for-granted component in all other smartphones: the digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Translating digital audio to conform to analog headphones requires a dedicated chip. Apple has this time opted to leave the audio processing to the headphones; be they from Apple, or from other manufacturers who can focus on higher-quality DACs without the limitations of an iPhone’s internal real estate. These chips can be built in to the plug, the cord, or the headphone itself. Some predict this will mean higher quality sound than an iPhone’s native DAC could have generated. Time will tell.

iphonexray

An X-ray of last year’s iPhone 6S. Note the headphone jack in the lower-left. (Source: iFixit.com, click photo for their full teardown.)

Moving Toward A Wireless Future: CHARGE!

Apple doesn’t expect its users simply to use the iPhone’s built-in speakers for all future audio needs. After all, not only are they bundling with the new iPhone wired headphones that connect directly to the multi-purpose Lightning jack, but they’re also including an adapter (below) to allow users to plug their existing analog headphones into that jack.

adapter

Apple’s included Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter (Source: Apple.com)

Third party companies like Belkin have already announced splitters, such as their RockStar™ (below) to allow for lightning headphone use while simultaneously charging the iPhone.

lightningsplit

Belkin’s Lightning Audio + Charge RockStar™ (Source: Belkin.com, click photo for their page.)

But wired headphones may themselves be the next thing to go. At the same keynote where they announced the iPhone 7, Apple unveiled AirPods (below): wireless earbuds that promise high-quality audio while leaving the Lightning jack free for charging (or other purposes, like an SD Card reader).

apple-airpod-laydown

Apple’s wireless AirPods. (Source: Apple.com, click photo for press release.)

But what if the iPhone didn’t need to plug in a cable even to recharge its battery?

Apple’s latest gadget du jour, the Watch, doesn’t require a cable to be inserted into a hole to recharge its battery; it uses a magnetic pad placed on the bottom of the watch (shown in this video narrated by Apple designer Jony Ive).

Likewise, Apple’s latest flagship tablet, the iPad Pro, features the “Smart Connector,” a row of three small circles (shown below), through which electricity can travel from the iPad to devices like keyboards; or to the iPad, from devices like the Logi BASE Charging Station. In both cases, the power goes strictly through touch, through the process of “inductive charging.”

ipadsmart

iPad Pro’s new Smart Connector on the edge. (Source: MacWorld.com)

Third-party manufacturers have been working toward a future with touch-only charging for years. Mophie’s Juice Pack battery case now comes in a model allowing for wireless charging, through their “Charge Force” line (see their video below to learn more).

Even furniture maker IKEA (below) has gotten in on the trend, selling wireless charging pads, and building the technology into some of their lamps and nightstands.

20154_wcvc01a_01_ph124079

IKEA’s SELJE Nightstand with wireless charging. (Source: IKEA, click photo for its page.)

I predict that iPhones will eventually have built-in wireless charging technology to take advantage of these options without needing a special case or adapter, just like some Android phones do already.

Eventually, the iPhone may not have any holes for any purpose: not charging, headphones, or anything else. This could bring about a near-hermetically sealed iPhone, with greatly improved water and dust resistance.

Conclusion

I don’t expect the removal of the headphone jack to go over smoothly, and I encourage debate on the subject. I just think that knowing Apple’s history, design philosophy, and ambitions for the future have made this a foregone conclusion. Personally, I’m ready to have one fewer wire to have to untangle.

tangled