Tag Archives: xkcd

Why Wait? Well…

In technology, timing is everything. When shopping for new equipment, we tend to seek out the newest, latest, greatest in tech—and hopefully for the best price, if we can arrange that as well. That’s human nature. But is there a benefit to waiting, or is our desire for instant gratification justified? It’s not always as straightforward as a trip to the electronics store (or website).

To illustrate my point, I’m going to point out four types of electronics consumer. There is a fifth that I’ll get to at the end, but I want to start with these four:

1. The Early Adopter

We all know this one—some of us even ARE this one! He downloads beta versions of software before it’s officially released. He reads rumor websites like macrumors.com, and he tunes in to the live feeds of keynote presentations from the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Apple’s WorldWide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). He pre-orders his devices; and when that isn’t an option, he waits in line all night.

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Talk about dedication! These guys are waiting in line together, AND they’ve got matching outfits! Source: MarketWatch.com

I confess to having a lot of those tendencies. And in tech, these are more often considered virtues than vices. It’s a little stressful knowing that there’s always something “brand new” on the horizon, but that doesn’t diminish the satisfaction of being the “first on the block” with the newest toys. Of the four habits, this one requires the greatest investment of time and money. But The Early Adopter is doing his part to keep tech companies in business, churning out the latest gadgets to meet that demand. And once he’s done his part, spreading the buzz about the tech he’s acquired (through no lack of effort), in steps…

2. The Bandwagoner

There is no crime in waiting a few weeks—or even months—for the supply of a given device to rise to meet demand. In most cases, manufacturers look at their sales and, as long as they don’t run into parts shortages or other logistical obstacles, they can ship out enough for everyone. This is where The Bandwagoner can pick up his device of choice. He’s not one to wait in a line, or to sweat over arcane pre-order processes. No, he’s patient. And this patience is often rewarded with “Version 1.1” (or later) editions, honed if not perfected after The Early Adopter reported any bugs he found in that launch wave.

The Bandwagoner also can enjoy the added benefit of a growing selection of peripherals and accessories for this new gadget. For example, I’m thinking of the varieties of cases for iPads and iPhones whenever a new model comes out. You see, it takes those case makers at least a few weeks to custom-fit their designs every time Apple adds or subtracts a few millimeters to their products. When The Bandwagoner is ready, he can pick up everything in one trip to the store. And if he waits long enough, he’ll slide into the next category…

3. The Mid-Cycler

This is a well-populated, if not-entirely-festive place to be. When a product has been out for several months (or even years, in some cases), it can be frustrating when you’re ready to buy the “latest” device, even if it’s not particularly “new.” For example, I recently had a friend of mine, “J,” text me to ask about the iPad Pro. This was our conversation:

J: I’m torn between the sizes

C: Have you handled both at the store? The 12 was a bit too big for my comfort. But you know there’s likely a new Pro coming out this year…

J: yeah it is a monster – hence my uncertainty. BUT a large factor in why I want a Pro (and not just new iPad) is to draw on. And the big one seems better for that. I’ve heard the new one is only going to come in one size and likely 10″. You heard dif?

C: Nothing official. They did just release a new 9″ non-Pro model. I’d be surprised if a new 12 wasn’t in the works.

J: Though I’d prob still go with a refurb old one. Wonder how much cheaper those would get when new model came out… And WHEN! Damn you Apple.

C: June 5 is their next big conference. WWDC. If you can stand to wait, it almost always pays off

J: Gah! I mean of course I can. This is all just for funzies.

C: 👍

J: But I want it now! Stupid lousy world.

C: Then get it now. Live your life, son!

J: blah. BLAH

C: Lol

I don’t know what he decided to do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he waited a little longer, placing him firmly in the fourth category:

4. The Waiter

In tech, waiting for the next release is almost always a good instinct. What comes out next is almost uniformly superior to what’s out now; and it will either come out at the same price as today’s model, thus reducing the price of what’s out now; or the new device itself will debut at a lower price point. The Waiter loves when this happens, and he typically isn’t shy about gloating to The Early Adopter about the “better deal” he got, just by being patient.

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My hat’s off to anyone who can wait five years to buy hardware or software. Source: XKCD.com

The Waiter doesn’t always seek out the newest gear. Often he sees the new release and, unless it has some “must-have” feature, he happily picks up “last year’s model” at a reduced price. I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard at the Apple Store the other day, when a young woman was deciding between the $269 Apple Watch Series 1; or one of the other varieties, starting with the Series 2 at $369.

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Apple’s current line of Watches. Source: Apple.com, click image to go to their comparison page.

The Apple clerk pointed out that the most prominent additions for the Series 2 are the built-in GPS, and that it’s now water resistant to 50 meters (as opposed to the Series 1, which is simply “Splash resistant”). The young lady thought it over, and said, “I don’t need the GPS, and I’m not going swimming with it.” So the salesman suggested she save the $100 and go with the Series 1. For those who don’t remember, the Series 1 debuted in 2015 for a starting price of $349. So not only did not needing to have the “latest and greatest” save her $100, but she saved $80 just by waiting a couple years!

Apple products almost universally reward The Waiter, despite the “ooh” factor of having the brand-newest iPhone, iPad, etc. In fact, Apple broke typical protocol and teased for their patient Waiter audience that a new Mac Pro desktop is on the horizon for possibly as early as 2018. They never do that. If you’re curious about your own next Apple purchase, you might want to pop over to MacRumors Buyer’s Guide. But as we’re still several weeks away from WWDC, don’t be surprised if that site tells you to wait on everything.

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WWDC, likely Apple’s next opportunity to announce new products this year, starts June 5, 2017. Source: Apple.com, click image to learn more about WWDC.

There’s only one scenario in recent tech history where waiting was not only not rewarded, but outright punished. This past week, Nintendo announced that they have discontinued production of their surprise Holiday 2016 hit, the NES Classic. Those who didn’t wait in line or jump through the typical “Early Adopter” hoops for it aren’t going to get to be Bandwagoners for this one. At this point, one can only hope that Nintendo will release a “Version 2.0” follow-up edition (perhaps including Super Nintendo games, or even the ability to download and install games legally?). With the focus shifting to Nintendo’s even bigger hit, the Switch, it’s more likely that Nintendo aren’t thinking about any further “Classic” offerings for a while. But hey, maybe they’ll surprise us. We’ll just have to… wait.


 

Finally, there is a fifth category I’d like to bring up:

5. The Archaeologist

There’s waiting, and then there’s WAITING. This category is mostly populated with hobbyists who have their “daily driver” computer or whatnot; but they seek out “vintage” (or to put it less kindly, “obsolete”) devices with the aim to restore them to original release condition… even if that original release was in the 90’s, 80’s, or even earlier. Sometimes, they see what they can do to augment the original hardware with more modern features, like adding a Solid State Drive (SSD) to devices never built with such a drive in mind, like an iPod from 2002. It’s nowhere near practical, but it can be entertaining to watch them succeed—and just as entertaining, if not more so, when they fail.


For your viewing pleasure, here are David “The 8-Bit Guy” Murray…

…and Ian “Druaga1” Anderson. You may not want to try these at home.


 

What category to do you fall into? Do you have to have the latest gadget before everyone else? Do you know to “never buy a console at launch?” Have you never paid launch-day prices? Or do you not care about such things, and you buy what’s available when you need it (and not a second earlier)? Each position has its merits. And sadly, each has its pitfalls. I think the best course of action is to “pick your battles.” That is to say, some devices merit rushing out and grabbing them on day one (I, for one, have no regrets standing in line outside Best Buy for my Nintendo Switch). On the other hand, most of my other tech purchases have put me firmly in the “Bandwagoner” or even “Waiter” categories. And I’m fine with that.

I mean, until they announce what’s coming out next. ◼︎

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

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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

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

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


PLUG #2

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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:

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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:

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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