Yet another thing to carry around: Apple, slimlining versus portability

Picture of a white man wearing a blue shirt, and behind him a picture of the side of a new MacBook with a gold finish, showing one port, with the letters 'USB-C' on the screen below it‘Power users’ need to shut up (from OSNews)

This article links to one at iMore, in which someone who calls himself a ‘power user’ but says he hates the term, tells ‘spec monkeys’ to shut up about the lack of external ports on the new MacBook (which only has a single USB-C port, which has to be used for charging and connecting every external device):

The thing that spec monkeys need to remember is that most people don’t care about what they care about. Most people buying new computers aren’t interest in how many cores a CPU has or how many GB of RAM or storage it has. Very few of the people I sell computers to have more than a passing interest. They want to know what the computer can do. What problems it solves for them.

From that perspective, the MacBook is already a success: It provides an up to date, modern OS X Yosemite user experience. It emphasizes wireless connectivity through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth — something many consumers already have ample experience with on their iPhones and iPads. It’s loaded with the software most users need to get started: Everything from a web browser to email, data management apps for contacts, calendars and so on. And it’s well-integrated into an ecosystem millions of iPhone and iPad users already depend on to store their data and make it available in the cloud. iCloud, more specifically.

The OSNews article goes on to compare this sentiment to those who criticise the latest Samsung Galaxy phones (the S6 and S6 Edge) for lacking a SD card slot, using the name logic that “less than 0.1% of people care”. Just because the majority don’t care, it doesn’t mean someone who cares is not right to do so.

Admittedly, all my smartphones since about 2012 have had no SD card slots and only the first Nexus I bought (the Galaxy Nexus) had a removable back and battery. All of the others rely on the “hold the Power button in for 10 seconds” way of forcing a reboot, and they’ve all worked, but there might come a time when a phone’s firmware is so buggy that it doesn’t work, where a battery pop-out might have done. As for the SD card slot, it’s not a feature I’ve missed since moving to Nexus (and more recently iPhone) as all of those devices had plenty of internal storage, while early Androids which had only megabytes, rather than gigabytes, of storage would fill up pretty quickly. It’s useful to be able to take the SD card out and replace it, or to transfer files physically to another device, especially if you don’t have a USB lead handy. The lack of an SD card slot has always been cited as a major disadvantage of both Nexus and iPhone, even if I’ve never missed it. Perhaps it’s going out of favour, as the cards are, let’s face it, easy to lose.

Slimming down a device does not always increase its portability. All of Apple’s Mac laptops, except the one I have (the 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro) nowadays rely mostly on USB, wifi and proprietary Apple connectors. They do not have, for example, an Ethernet port or a built-in optical drive. This means that if you want to watch a DVD on your laptop, you’ve got to buy, and carry, that extra drive, but of course Apple assume that you get all your music from the iTrunes store and your videos from some other online store, because of course we all have limitless broadband, don’t we. That also means that if your Mac is affected by the long-standing wi-fi bug in the latest Mac OS (Yosemite), which causes the wifi to constantly cut out or go slow after a few minutes of being connected, you don’t have connectivity, or you could be in for a very long download, unless you want to plug in that extra Thunderbolt dock, which is yet another thing to carry round when the whole point of slimming down and eliminating ports is to increase portability.

The new MacBook doesn’t even have Thunderbolt; it just has one USB-C port which connects to one of Apple’s external USB duplicators (yet another thing to carry around) which themselves only have at most one standard USB port on them (they also have a charging point and a VGA or HDMI display port), and you’ll need one of those to connect your iPhone, so besides the cost of the device (at least £1,049), these port duplicators are going to be a money-spinner for Apple (at least in the short term; as it’s an open standard, cheaper duplicators will be available before very long). One advantage of USB-C over the existing Mac power connectors is that, like with a smartphone, you could be able to plug in an external battery pack, but guess what? Yet another thing to carry around.

As I’ve always said, I’m not going to be any tech company’s fanboy. Not Apple’s, not Google’s and not Canonical’s or any other Linux development company’s either. I mainly use Apple devices now, but I’m not going to breathe in the awesome and “just shut up” when a product obviously lacks important features, just because the average new user doesn’t need them — if they never used them, how would they know how what advantages they offer? It’s significant that Apple haven’t deleted the non-Retina MacBook Pro, because they clearly recognise that some people need a traditional laptop in one box which can run other operating systems and connect a wide range of peripherals easily, rather than having to rely on external drives and port duplicators. And since when did knowing what an ethernet port is, from years of experience in using, maintaining, and developing for a range of types of computer, make you a monkey?

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