The hidden benefits of living in Dongle World

I bought a 2017 MacBook Pro recently and finally entered Dongle World. For those unfamiliar, Apple made a change to their MacBook Pro model in 2016 and dropped replaced all of the device’s USB and Thunderbolt ports for one port: USB-C. While the benefits are clear, and we will all be seeing more of USB-C on all our devices in the future, we still require adaptors to plug most of our devices in. Wherever my laptop goes, I now need to carry one USB dongle, one special cable for my iOS devices, and occasionally a USB hub in case I need more classic USB ports. I haven’t felt a need to use my external monitor yet, but that will be the fourth dongle in my collection.

While the sudden and complete shift to USB-C was highly talked about last year, one change I didn’t expect to see change was the power adaptor. Like many Androids phones, the new laptops are charged via the USB-C ports. This is the biggest change that Apple has made to their power adaptors in a decade. Before I get into the new design, a little history:

In 2006, Apple introduced the MagSafe power connector to their laptop line. The MagSafe connector keeps your laptop’s power cable connected to your laptop using a magnetic connection and prevented a sudden yank of the cord from pulling your laptop off the table. It was also a breeze to plug in, as the magnets would pull the cable into place if it was brought anywhere near the connector. It’s a classic example of Apple’s accomplishments in industrial design, and a testament to their drive to improve the user experience.

Nonetheless, MagSafe has been usurped by Dongle World.

It’s not all bad, though. While there isn’t as much magic in the new MacBook power adaptor, Apple has decided to throw in a few features to balance out the tradeoffs of losing MagSafe.

  1. We can finally plug the power cord in on either side of the device. You’ve probably been in the same situation that I have: You need to charge your laptop, but your seat is just out of reach of the power outlet. If the cable were two feet longer, or the plug was two feet to the right you’d be in business! If only you could plug the connector into the left side of your laptop instead of the right, you’d be able to eek an extra couple of inches out of it.

Well, now you can. We’ve lost the easy of letting magnets pull our connectors together, but gain a couple inches of cord length…half the time.

  1. Cord Wear no longer means buying a new laptop charger. This was a welcome surprise. Past laptop chargers have had one major flaw: the cord always wears through and it breaks. You then go on to to order a new one, realize it is going to cost $80, so you go to Amazon and find “the same thing” for <$20. You buy the cheaper option and it arrives 4 weeks after your free 2-day shipping suggested. It works well for a few days before you start hearing buzzing sounds coming from the power brick. Then the plastic turns yellow, and you smell something burning whenever you use it. You tell yourself it is fine, for $20 it still gets the job done…just don’t leave it charging all night. Finally, the poor thing dies, hopefully not taking your laptop along with it.

The new power cable is a male-to-male USB-C cable. That means you can detach it from the power brick and wrap it up on its own. It feels durable, but if it ever does wear through, you can always buy a new cable without incurring the costs of an entirely new power brick. As an added benefit, the new charger wraps up nicer than the older ones did. You can also use the new brick to charge your phone–if you’ve got a dongle for it.

  1. You can charge your laptop off anything. Since the MacBook charges from a generic USB-C cable, you can charge it from literally anything that can send power to it. On vacation and realized you forgot your charger?

You can charge your laptop off your friend’s 5W phone charger…slowly but you can do it.

You can charge your phone and laptop off the same portable battery.

You can daisy-chain multiple USB-C laptops together and all charge off the same plug.

You can even “charge” your laptop off itself! Take your male-to-male USB-C cord and plug both ends into different ports of your laptop. BOOM! Infinite power!

I’m waiting for the day when iOS devices will join the USB-C party, but I think it is more likely for them to go entirely port-less before that happens.

#DongleLife isn’t so bad after all

All in all, I think the tradeoffs that Apple has made to their laptop ports are worth it. I wasn’t happy buying all the USB-C connectors required to get things to connect, but I recognize this is a transitional period.

I’m most sad to see MagSafe go. It feels archaic to own a laptop and worry about someone stepping on the cord. It feels awkward to have to find the tiny port manually instead of letting magnets do all the work. I guess Windows users have been dealing with this for the last decade so it can’t be that bad.

Right now I’m looking forward to a future when all phones, screens and laptops use USB-C, and I never have to worry about connecting when I need to. Until then, I’ll be stuffing my pockets with free USB adaptors at conferences whenever I can.