Why is Apple Removing Ports from MacBooks

Why Macbooks Still Need USB-A

Jason Cross

Sometimes the introduction of future technologies is at the expense of the present, to the detriment of customers.

EnlargeToo many cables and adapters needed: USB-C is slow to take hold

In 2016, Apple got serious about replacing the good old USB-A port (the rectangular connector that you always want to plug in the wrong way round) with USB-C ports (the small reversible oval) in all of their laptops ( The first USB-C device, the 12-inch Macbook, was released in spring 2015, editor's note. Red. )

The Macbook Pro in two sizes followed the 12-inch Macbook, which only had a USB-C port that had to be used for both the power supply and peripheral devices. While that was frustrating, the reasons for ditching the USB-A port seemed valid: USB-C was the obvious future. A port that is smaller, thinner, balanced, and easier to connect, that guarantees the high speeds of USB 3.0 and maybe even other things like Thunderbolt ports.

Apple was betting on the obvious future before when it dropped the serial and parallel ports in the original iMac in favor of USB only, putting the rest of the industry under pressure.

Except that it didn't work out this time. While the manufacturers of peripherals and accessories (and Windows PCs) have switched to USB-A in record time, the switch from USB-A to USB-C takes forever. By removing all USB-A ports from Macbooks, Apple is sacrificing the user experience in the name of forcing a new industry standard that is simply not widely adopted even years later.

USB-C is clearly superior

I should mention that I definitely believe USB-C is superior to USB-A standard. I would like every external hard drive, webcam, memory stick, mouse, keyboard, printer, microphone, A / V mixer and game controller to use USB-C ports and nothing else.

You can even put me in the drawer that says "Apple should ditch Lightning in favor of USB-C". I was glad when the iPad Pro took that direction, and I wish the iPhones had followed suit.

But after years of hearing that USB-C is the future, there are still brand new products that come with USB-A interfaces. From podcasting microphones to web cams, most modern devices end with a USB-A plug. I almost never see a USB-C mouse, keyboard, or USB-C memory stick. External storage is the exception that proves the rule - these types of drives have embraced USB-C (and Thunderbolt 3) more than the other industries.

Much to my chagrin, the USB-A stuff is still everywhere, and it's not just scrap iron. Brand new devices from the biggest brands still use the old connection, and not in small numbers.

Convenience vs. Courage

When Apple banned the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, Cupertino described this step as "brave". It takes courage to say goodbye to the old and accept the new. Oh, and would you please buy a pair of those fancy Airpods that we just released?

Of course, while other smartphone manufacturers proudly announced that they would still work with your wired headphones, most of these brands have since moved on to the phone jack as well.

EnlargeApple's influence on laptop design is not what it is for smartphones.
© Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

I don't think Macbooks are at the same fork in the road today as the iPhone back then, or the first iMac when it used USB instead of serial and parallel ports.

In the case of the iPhone 7, a headphone jack would have taken up a considerable amount of the internal space and made waterproofing more difficult. Although Apple did not communicate its decision in this way, it could well have said: "Do you want a headphone jack or 15 percent more battery life? Such compromises are not part of the recipe for success with modern Macbooks. The iPhone has such an influence on the design of smartphones," that it can be certain that others will follow it everywhere (see "Notch"). The same cannot be said of the Macbook.

Apple had nothing to lose with the original iMac, which was only connected via USB. PC makers were eager to ditch bulky and unreliable serial ports anyway, peripheral makers were eager for the new possibilities, and Apple had a very small market to service. Longtime Apple fans may remember, but most iMac customers were buying into a whole new ecosystem anyway. If we're honest, there weren't many Mac users left to be disappointed when the original iMac hit the market in 1998.

Today, however, Macbooks can be found everywhere. The market is huge. And as we've seen in the past few years, PC and peripheral manufacturers are not keen on giving up support for USB-A in favor of USB-C.

Apple is simply making its laptops less comfortable and requiring the purchase of new cables or adapters for a wide range of peripherals. This does not leave a lot of space for important functions, nor does the future successfully herald. This was still possible in 2016. But now, four years later, with major branded peripherals still largely shipping with USB-A ports, we can clearly say it didn't work.

Even Apple recognizes the importance of USB-A

Strangely enough, five years after the first USB-C laptop, Apple is still equipping all of its desktop computers with USB-A ports. The iMac, iMac Pro, and Mac Pro all have at least a few of these.

If USB-C is the future, why bother shipping its $ 10,000 super workstation with a pair of USB-A ports on the back? Apple probably realized that professionals still have dozens of devices with USB-A ports and that adapters are annoying.

EnlargeEven Apple's latest design for its trend-setting desktop Mac includes a couple of USB-A ports.

But not only professionals need this connection. A practical example: My sister, a teacher, is upgrading her old Macbook (it probably needs that too) because Covid-19 is leading to more online courses. Her memory sticks are all USB-A ... she'll need an adapter for that. She can buy new sticks, but most of them are still USB-A and you pay extra for USB-C. And it still has to get the data from the old one, so ... adapter.

Then she gets a webcam because the cameras built into Macbooks are inexplicably terrible. Oops ... basically all webcams play in the USB-A league. Adapter! When she plugged in her digital camera to copy pictures from there to her computer, well, that came with a USB-A cable, so ...

As many times as we've been told that USB-C is the future, and as much as we wish for that future to come now, it isn't. And to be honest, if you look at the number of brand new peripherals with a USB-A connector, that future is still a long way from coming.

In retrospect, Apple's decision to use an emerging standard has proven to be rather detrimental to its customers. The industry failed to make USB-C a breakthrough, which today means customers must find cables or adapters to use both old and new devices.

Apple definitely shouldn't rush to give up USB-C and revert to the old, inferior USB-A port, but it should provide at least a single USB-A port on every laptop it sells, as it does on every desktop the case is.

Or at least put a USB-C to USB-A adapter in every Macbook box, as was the case with the iPhone for years with Lightning-to-Jack adapters.