Going all-in on USB-C with Apple's ecosystem? That's impossible -- for now

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in Current Mac Hardware edited April 25
I'm finally ready to fully embrace the smaller, reversible, more powerful USB-C port featured on Apple's recent MacBooks. But in preparing for a full switch to the versatile port, I have hit a number of roadblocks. No matter how badly I want to completely ditch USB-A, it turns out I just can't.

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C on MacBook Pro


Any given night, I have a multitude of devices to charge before I go to bed. The no-brainers are my iPhone, my Apple Watch, and my MacBook Pro. Many nights you can also throw a number of other devices into the mix -- my iPad Pro, AirPods, a portable battery, a Nintendo Switch, a drone, a speaker, or a GoPro.

At home, this isn't too big of a deal. I have dedicated docks, cables and charging stations for all of these devices. On the road, however, it gets a little more complicated. Often times there aren't a large number of plugs available or conveniently accessible in a hotel or guest room, and frequently the two available plugs are so close together that a large power brick (like one for a newer MacBook) covers the spare.

In these cases, it's easiest to just plug in your MacBook Pro, and then take your iPhone, Apple Watch or other accessories, and charge them through the available USB ports.

In the past, with an oversized standard USB port, this wasn't too much of a problem. Even if you didn't need to charge your MacBook or had another available wall plug, there are a multitude of USB wall adapters with four or more ports, giving plenty of options for juicing your phone, watch, and other accessories overnight.

Thunderbolt 3 does it all


But what if you want to go all-in on USB-C? Whether plugging into a wall adapter or your MacBook Pro, it would be nice to have a dongle-free experience where everything can be simply charged. And as USB-C grows in popularity, cables that connect the new plug to other form factors like Apple Lightning or even Micro USB are readily available and relatively inexpensive. We just need the ports for charging.

As I've discovered in my search, we don't really have the ports for charging.

Wall adapters: One at a time, please

My fantasies of a USB-C utopia first began to break down when I looked into USB-C-only wall chargers. I can easily get an inexpensive and portable six-port USB adapter if I'm willing to stick with full-size USB-A ports.

Considering a USB-C port is smaller than USB-A, if anything, you might think that a USB-C-only wall charger would be more compact, or potentially pack in more ports. But you'd be wrong.

Most USB-C wall adapters have just one USB-C port. Even worse, many of them come with a number of full-size USB-A ports to accompany it. Remember, I'm trying to get rid of USB-A, not keep it hanging around. Apple ditched USB-A on the MacBook Pro, and I want to as well.

Choetech USB-C 15W Wall Charger
Choetech USB-C 15W Wall Charger


Obviously there are market reasons for this. Many USB-C wall adapters are designed for larger devices that require more power -- like an 85-watt USB-C power brick for Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro. A brick with multiple USB-C ports wouldn't be able to offer that charging speed, making it somewhat confusing for consumers.

The problem here lies with USB Power Delivery, or USB-PD. Manufacturers are likely reluctant to further confuse consumers by only offering certain ports with full USB-PD specifications.

However, this problem already existed with previous full-size USB ports -- and manufacturers got around it by labeling ports with higher power capacities so consumers would understand. Mophie, for example, labels USB ports with higher power specifications on portable batteries by simply outlining them in green.

Things do, however, get a little more complex -- and technical -- with USB-C, which requires a specialized chip to negotiate direction of power. However, this still doesn't explain why there aren't any multi-port USB-C wall adapters meant for basic electronics that don't need USB-PD, like Apple's AirPods or even an iPhone.

For manufacturers, the basis is likely the fact that many consumers still have a bunch of USB-A devices -- including, for example, the Lightning cable that ships with the iPhone X. Going all USB-C is a turn-off for many.

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 hubs: Hope you still want USB-A

The persistence of USB-A is also a problem if you look at USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 hubs. Almost all of them continue to exclusively include USB-A ports, presumably because, once again, consumers still have legacy devices and cables they want to connect.

For many, the inclusion of USB-A is probably a selling point. For me, it's one foot in the past.

CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3
CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 -- note the lack of USB-C other than the Thunderbolt 3 ports


In fact, if you want to ditch USB-A entirely, your best bet is actually a monitor -- namely the Retina-caliber LG UltraFine displays preferred by Apple. Both the 21.5- and 27-inch versions have only USB-C ports, completely eschewing full-size USB.

Many of these issues with docks and wall adapters will likely be resolved as USB-C becomes more of a standard and users find themselves with fewer USB-A accessories. Right now, there isn't enough of a market desire to go all-in on USB-C. I'm an early adopter, and I accept that.

But why isn't Apple fully embracing USB-C?

Apple Watch: Bring a dongle or dock

If anyone should offer a full array of USB-C options for its current product lineup, it should be Apple. The company does offer an optional USB-C to Lightning cable for the iPhone and iPad -- at extra cost, of course. And that's fine.

But oddly, the company still does not sell a USB-C to Apple Watch magnetic charger. Which means that if you find yourself in a hotel and can only plug in your new MacBook Pro, you won't be able to charge your Apple Watch without additional accessories.

There are two workarounds available from Apple. One is the USB-C to USB-A dongle. The other, more expensive method is to buy the official Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Dock, a $79 accessory with a female Lightning port. Throw in a $25 official USB-C to Lightning cable, and you'll be spending over $100 to charge your Apple Watch dongle-free from your MacBook Pro -- and in a bulkier, less portable fashion.

Soon there will be a third option: The AirPower charging mat also connects to a Lightning plug and will charge an Apple Watch Series 3 (as well as newer iPhones and a redesigned AirPods case). But the AirPower mat is not exactly a highly portable accessory, and we have no idea how much it will cost.

Other weirdness

Of course, the early growing pains of USB-C are not limited to Apple or its direct ecosystem. Consider drone maker DJI -- its latest Mavic Air has a USB-C port (for data transfer not charging), but the physical controller that it pairs with still has a micro USB port. In the box, the device ships with a micro USB to USB-C adapter to allow for charging.

Drive enclosures are starting to have USB-C versions. But generally, they are Generation 1, meaning that we're stuck with the 5Gbit/second transfer speeds -- more than exceeded by even cheap SSDs.

It is all very reminiscent of the original iMac, which ditched ports in favor of the then-newfangled USB port. And, that includes the very brief chaos and "dongle hell" that erupted thereafter which we somehow all survived.

If it's frustrating for a tech-savvy early adopter, imagine how the average consumer feels

I have a confession to make: I'm still running a 13-inch 2015 MacBook Pro. It charges via MagSafe, and it has two full-size USB ports. But, we've got multiple staffers who have done this dance already, with differing levels of success. More victories we had for those mostly home office-bound, fewer for the fully mobile.

I'm in the market for a new USB-C-based MacBook Pro, however, and we all know that new models are likely right around the corner. That is what is driving my current desire to fully embrace USB-C -- I want to be fully ready for the switch when I get my new MacBook Pro, so that the transition is seamless and painless.

Mentally, I'm ready for the switch, but the market isn't quite ready for me. So, why would an average consumer want to embrace USB-C? This leaves devices like the MacBook Pro as a pain point for many.

Don't even get us started on how poorly USB-C cables are labeled.

I don't expect Apple to fully fix this problem, as it cannot change the entire device and accessory ecosystem or supply chain. And it has helped by pushing USB-C-based options, such as its preferred LG UltraFine monitors.

But it's important to remember that Apple was the first to try to go all-in on USB-A just the same as it is now with USB-C. Again, they led the way to drive a new standard forward -- I'm just following. Who will join me? And when?
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 43
    majorslmajorsl Posts: 53unconfirmed, member
    They are definitely ahead of the curve. Someday we'll look back and wonder how we "lived" with Type-A vs Type-B USB.

    I'd love to see a newer Mac mini with only power, HDMI, and 5 or 6 USB-C ports on the back.  I'm probably dreaming that they'd ever go all TB3 on the mini with that many ports, but it would be a nice little machine for certain applications.

    So far, I'm coping with my USB-C/TB3 MBP but only with the help of a OWC TB3 dock. It does get a little weird when I travel as a prepare the adapters I'll need.  :)
    nhugheswelshdog
  • Reply 2 of 43
    staticx57staticx57 Posts: 395member
    My MacBook Pro serves as my multiport charge that I plug everything else into.
    nhughes
  • Reply 3 of 43
    MKMcMKMc Posts: 10member
    Everyones needs are different. I really enjoy the super-portability of the new 13" MBP for when I am traveling - contrary to the nay-says - thin and light really matters to me; and there really isn't that much more in the way of externals that I need to lug around. In my case, my old MacBook Pro required a Mini Display to VGA adaptor, and a USB hub (due to the limitation of only two USB ports. My new MacBook Pro requires a USB-C to VGA adaptor and a USB-C to USB hub for my peripherals. So actually - no difference to the weight of my carry-bag and no extra adaptors. Of course if I need a DVD - then I have to include my external DVD drive - but that requirement is almost never these days.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 43
    I ran into much the same conclusions prepping for a few trips. Since there was no was to go C only, my answer to the charging mess was to get a brick that could handle C and A. I ended up with the Anker PowerPort+ 5 Ports USB-C (horrible name, but descriptive) and have found it's a great charger. I don't ever take my MacBook and my iPad on the same trips (MacBook on business, iPad on personal), so I don't have to fight for the lone C port (but I would prefer to see two C ports and two or three A ports).
    nhugheswatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 43
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    I am in a similar position, looking to buy a 2018 Macbook Pro (hopefully in June) to replace my 2015 and wondering what to do about my current peripherals. There are lots of good wireless mice, but my favorite mouse is a USB-A one. Also have a Thunderbolt 2 to gigabit Ethernet adaptor.

    Anyway, is Apple in fact all-in with USB-C? The most recent Mac (iMac Pro) had 4 USB-A ports. And none of the iDevices use it yet.
    baconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 43
    donjumpsuitdonjumpsuit Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    "I'm in the market for a new USB-C-based MacBook Pro, however, and we all know that new models are likely right around the corner."

    I know the feeling. Bought the "new" touch bar Macbook Pro in April, and they upgraded the processors in June last year.

    Also sitting on a Late 2009 original i7 iMac waiting on the 'new model' around the corner. iMac Pro does look nice, but it's over kill, and likely the last flat screen redesign.
    edited April 25
  • Reply 7 of 43
    I really love my 2016 MBP but having to carry extra pieces parts to make all my things work really is getting old after all this time!! I have a Hyperdock that I really like and a dozen usb-a/usb-c "sleeves" but it always seems I never have the adapter I need when I need it!! Just yesterday I didn't have a rj45!!
    aylk
  • Reply 8 of 43
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 1,903member
    Are you just making this over complicated, or could you just bring a power strip with you, plug into a outlet and then have a bunch of outlets, problem solved.

    It's way, way to early to go all in with USB-C. There is just going to be a very long transitional phase. USB 1.0 release date was 1996. So USB-A has been around for over 20 years. It's not going to disappear overnight. It may still be around for another 10 years. Most devices are still USB-A or Mini/Micro USB. Smartphones are making the switch, but they're not all USB-C yet either.

    Even though Apple ditched the DVD drive a number of years ago, you can still buy one and plug it into your computer to use as some people still need one. USB-A is going to be around for years to come as people are still going to need it for years to come. Most people are not just going to throw their stuff away to get a USB-C version.
    edited April 25 muthuk_vanalingambaconstangrandominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 43
    Whenever I travel, I would get an adapter that has a power socket with 2 USB-A (to charge USB-A) devices. 

    Just like this: 

    Allows you to charge your Mac, and also 2 USB-A devices. 

    I would use this whenever I needed to travel light. But having to charge some devices and those that charges pretty quickly like an Apple Watch first. 

    If not, I would also get a 3-way adapter + adapters with a few USB-A ports. This way, it increases the number of available sockets, but I’ve always bear in mind not to overload it. 

  • Reply 10 of 43
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    Apple's roll-out is the best possible given all the circumstances.  I trust them to bring us along for the ride.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 43
    larz2112larz2112 Posts: 229member
    ascii said:
    Anyway, is Apple in fact all-in with USB-C? The most recent Mac (iMac Pro) had 4 USB-A ports. And none of the iDevices use it yet.
    I believe he is referring to himself going all-in with USB-C, not Apple.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 43
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 467member
    It's infuriating that manufacturers are making things called "USB-C hubs" that don't have USB-C ports. It's like they're trying to pre-emptively kill the whole standard.

    And the worst part is, it's so easy to go all-in on USB-C! Printers and external hard drives mostly have swappable cords, you can replace any of them with USB-C to USB-B or micro-B or whatever. The only device I have whose cord I can't swap out is a mouse. If someone like Anker would just make one lousy hub it would kick the whole market in the pants.

    also: One of my favorite accessories to have on hand is a lightning-USB keychain, like the Belkin Mixit https://www.amazon.com/Belkin-Lightning-Keychain-ChargeSync-iPhone/dp/B012RVYEJ2 . Loads of manufacturers make similar and blatant knock-offs… yet somehow, despite Apple selling USB-C Macbooks for three bloody years, there isn't a single lightning-USB-C keychain on the entire fucking planet.

    This is the next best thing, I have about half a dozen: https://www.amazon.com/TravelCables-Lightning-Compact-Charger-Computer/dp/B075C97L2Z/
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 43
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 467member

    nunzy said:
    Apple's roll-out is the best possible given all the circumstances.  I trust them to bring us along for the ride.
    No. They could have made a hub. Just one crummy hub would change the whole market.
    baconstangnhughes
  • Reply 14 of 43
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 780member
    One recurring complaint I have with wall adapters is the way they frequently are designed so you can't plug more than one in to a duplex outlet at a time. At least with the MacBook adapters and the larger iPad adapters you can snap the plug part out and plug in a cord (either one purchased from Apple, or an old one from a boom box or some other electrical device). That gives you more reach and makes it easier to plug in. It also solves the problem of the heavy adapter falling out of a less-than-tight outlet.

    Beyond that, this is exactly the problem with Apple going 'all in' with USB C on the new laptops They went all in with USB C on a device that's designed to go out into a USB A world. USB C is clearly a superior port, but ignoring the fact that USB A is the current standard and will be for at least a few more years is baffling. As others have pointed out above, Apple isn't even consistent between product lines. The MacBooks are all USB C only, but the iMac has 4 USB A and only 2 USB C ports, even though it is much less of an issue to have dongles or a hub to adapt a port on a desktop device. Then all of the iPhones are still USB A and even the iMac pro has USB A ports. 

    This article quite clearly demonstrates the problem with Apple's philosophy. Even a dedicated Apple fan/consumer is unable to go 'all-in' more than a year and a half after they came out with their USB-C only models.
    edited April 25 baconstang
  • Reply 15 of 43
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,800member
    These physical layer problems have existed for decades across all manner of power and connectivity "standards" - whether regulated or defacto. This isn't an Apple problem, it's a standardization problem. USB has actually been a bit smoother than others in my opinion and I have no doubt that companies like Anker will catch up with having the right products available to remedy the current situation. It's just an ongoing dynamic that product vendors are hesitant to get locked into supporting anything that they don't absolutely control (for product differentiation) or that will be outdated as quickly as the standard is ratified. With standardization committees often moving at a glacial pace it's no wonder that for-profit companies hate getting locked into standards they don't control. The real problem is timing and rate of change. Companies like Apple can move at Lightning speed but the industry standardization process is like running in knee deep mud.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 43
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,632member
    I have a 2017 MBP 15" Touchbar and I really enjoy it.  Unlike the many wasteful people in the world, I don't throw devices and gear out just because there is a change in port standards.  I still have Firewire drives around here fer cryin' out corn!  I keep my computers until they stop working (typically 7-8 years with a Mac notebook) or become too slow.  I got a USB C to USB A plus ethernet adapter and a few cables.  It's not the most convenient, but I don't fret about it.  Commenters are right, USB A is going to stay around like an ugly scar for maybe decades.  Not much we can do about it.

    Oh and I'm still peeved at Apple for dropping MagSafe.  I got the Vinpok bolt and it disconnects too easily to be practical for me.  I'd love to see Apple offer an explanation for dropping Magsafe.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 43
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 16,907member
    I don't really understand the frustration you're demonstrating here.  Granted, not being being able to find wall chargers with multiple USB-C ports is annoying.  But you're complaining about docks that include both?  Is the sight of USB-A really all that annoying?  
    randominternetpersonMplsP
  • Reply 18 of 43
    Megadeth7.69Megadeth7.69 Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    Like Galfridus I have the Anker PowerPort+ 5 USB-C with Power Delivery. I plug this into a wall socket with a LINDY 1.5m Folding UK Plug to IEC C7 wrapped around a bobino Cord Wrap. I then have a short USB-C to USB-C from the Powerport+ to the Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter hanging off my 2016 MBP 13" TB. Also attached to the Powerport+ is a 6" USB-A to Micro-USB for charging my Anker SoundBuds Slim, another connected to the UGREEN 10W QI Wireless Charging Pad and a third to the UE Power Up. That still leaves me a spare USB-A port. 
    I can 'fold' all these together and slip into the front internal pocket in my Crumpler Private Surprise Backpack XL (alas no longer available). With this compact setup I charge my headphones, UE Blast, iPhone X and MBP plus have a WD 4 TB Elements Portable Hard Drive attached to the Apple adaptor for Time Machine backup and extra storage. A NEET® - Ultra Slim HDMI Cable connects from the Apple adaptor to the hotel TV or my https://www.philips.co.uk/c-p/PPX4935_EU/picopix-pocket-projector (which I carry occasionally) for watching movies/TV or functioning as an extra display for work related stuff.
    I plan to consolidate further when my https://www.hypershop.com/products/hyperdrive-7-5w-wireless-charger-stand-usb-c-hub arrives. This will allow me to dispense with the Apple AV adaptor and Ugreen Qi charger disc. Currently I carry a MINIX NEO C Multiport Adapter in my bag for rare eventualities such as needing Ethernet, TF/SD card reader. This will also be seceded by the HyperDrive.
    I also carry in another pocket a selection of cables and adaptors. 15cm USB-C to Lightning, 15cm USB-C to USB-B SS, a USB-C to Displayport adaptor, an HDMI to mini-HDMI connector (for the Philips PPX4935), an HDMI coupler and an HDMI to DVI-D adaptor. In addition to the flat RJ45 Ethernet 1m cable I also carry a 15cm USB-A to Lightning cable with a nonda USB-C to USB 3.0 Mini Adapter attached (which can be used with any of the USB-A cables for direct connection to my MBP. Plus a Lightning AV adaptor (for direct connection of my iPhone to an HDMI output) and a micro-USB to Lightning adaptor.
    Oh! and a bog standard biro ;)
    With this absolute cornucopia of products, cables and adaptors I can connect my MBP to practically anything! It sounds like a lot of stuff but seriously doesn't take up much space at all. I am both portable cinema and extreme Road Warrior.
    I also pack an Anker PowerCore+ 20100 USB-C along with a few Cupasoups and Mugshots for emergencies ;) and needless to say I never make it through airport security unscathed!
    When arriving at my current work desk I have an LG 34UC99 (obviously not very portable) with Anker 3-Port USB 3.0 Ultra Slim Data Hub with Gigabit Ethernet attached. I pull out from my Crumpler an iClever IC-BK04 portable Bluetooth keyboard to accompany my Magic Mouse 2 (Space Grey), connect my MBP with a single USB-C cable and I'm good to go - as minimalist as I can get and all-in on USB-C.
    edited April 25 watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 43
    This article is rather silly.  The premise the "going all-in on USB-C" means that you never see a USB-C port is an artificial constraint.  I can see complaining about a dearth of hubs with lots of USB-C port, but to complain that they also include USB-A?  Cover up the extra ports with white tape and be happy.

    The solution for the Apple Watch charging challenge (how to charge a watch via a newer PowerBook) is to simply stick a USB-A-to-USB-C adapter on the end of the cable when you travel.  Just not that complicated or worth getting riled up about.
    linkmanwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 43
    linkmanlinkman Posts: 851member
    I can see complaining about a dearth of hubs with lots of USB-C port,
    Yes to this. I haven't found a dock that has more than 4 USB-C ports. Someone with a lot of USB-C peripherals and something like a Macbook 12" can really feel a pinch.
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
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