7 Nov 2016

Why Laptops Should Have Ports of the Same Kind

The new Macbook Pro with four USB-C ports is causing some people to argue that Apple should have included one old USB port for compatibility, as a transition measure. But that would be a bad thing, since it would encourage people to buy peripherals that use the old port, further entrenching it. If I have a computer that has only USB-C ports, whenever I buy a peripheral, whether a monitor, external hard disc, pen drive, keyboard, mouse, or cables to connect my phone, I'll necessarily buy peripherals that use USB-C. Whereas, if my Macbook had three USB-C ports and one USB-A port, I might buy a USB-A peripheral, further entrenching USB-A. Marco urges Apple to "design for the present" but it will actually end up entrenching the past.

Having all ports be the same type also solves the problem of having a free port, but of the wrong type. This was a problem on old Macbooks, which had only two USB ports. I often wanted to connect a third USB device, but the free ports all used different standards like Thunderbolt, HDMI, SD or MagSafe. Having all ports be the same type solves the problem of having a free port, but of the wrong type.

Having all ports be the same type also frees you from having to decide which type of port to plug a peripheral into. And these ports have different capabilities. Suppose you have a laptop with a HDMI and a DisplayPort, and you have an Ultra HD monitor. Which port do you plug the monitor into? The monitor, when plugged in to the HDMI port, may run at only 30Hz, causing eyestrain, and run at the full 60Hz when plugged in to DisplayPort [1]. An average user, who's not tech-savvy, wouldn't know about the minutiae of various ports. They'd just be unhappy that they're getting a blurry picture on their monitor. Or that they have a headache. Which is a total failure of the technology. If your laptop had all ports of the same kind, you wouldn't have to worry which kind of port to plug your monitor into.

It's not just a question of deciding which port to plug a peripheral into. The complexity percolates upstream, into deciding which peripheral to buy. In the above example where you have a laptop with both a HDMI and a DisplayPort, you have to decide whether to buy a monitor that has DisplayPort or HDMI. Or should it have both? Or is it enough if it has either of the two? Which port can drive the monitor at full frame rate and resolution? If your laptop had all ports of the same kind, you wouldn't have to worry about whether to buy a monitor that plugs into HDMI or DisplayPort.

This affects dongles as well. Suppose you need an Ethernet adapter, and you have an older Macbook Pro, which has both USB-A and Thunderbolt 2 ports. Apple sells an Ethernet-to-USB adapter, and an Ethernet-to-Thunderbolt adapter. Which should you buy? This complexity goes away if your laptop has all ports of the same kind.

Some people say that they want USB-C, but not now. That's a meaningless argument because a better time won't magically appear. If you think that we should switch to USB-C, the right way to do it is to go all in, not try to have a foot in both worlds. Dragging the transition on will make it more painful, not less. Pay the price once and move on.

[1] I had the same problem earlier with a 2560x1600 monitor, which ran at a blurry 1080p when plugged in to HDMI.

No comments:

Post a Comment