What Dongle Hell?

Okay, I’m going to go over this again: of all the flaws in the new MacBook Pro, going all Thunderbolt 3/USB-C wasn’t one of them. The overreaction to “all those dongles”, or “living in dongle hell” has gone beyond stupid. There is plenty to complain about in the new machine. The whole “all those dongles” thing isn’t one of them. The cost? Well, I can get behind that. The number of parts? Sorry, total crap.

Our Typical User

Let’s set the stage by examining a typical (or at least, representative) user. They usually travel with the following devices:

  • MacBook Pro of some kind
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Apple Watch
  • Kindle
  • SLR Camera with SD Card
  • USB thumb drive (to share data)
  • USB hard drive (for Time Machine backups)

They want to connect their Mac to the TV in their hotel room, but they also need to connect to projectors for presentations. Those projectors may use HDMI, DVI or VGA (and the last in that list is usually the most common). This person may also want to connect to a wired network.

The Last MacBook Pro

So let’s look at this typical user with his or her previous generation MacBook Pro. The one with USB-A, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI and SD-Card support. The one that supposedly doesn’t put you in “dongle hell”. This person will have, in their bag, the following cables and adapters:

  • Thunderbolt – Ethernet adapter (or USB-A Ethernet adapter
  • USB-A to USB-Micro B cable
  • USB-A to USB-Mini B cable
  • 2 x USB-A to Lightning cables
  • USB-A to Apple Watch charge cable
  • Mini DisplayPort – VGA adapter
  • Mini DisplayPort – DVI adapter
  • HDMI cable
  • Ethernet cable

That’s a total of 10 cables and adapters stuffed into a computer bag or backpack. For a machine that’s supposedly “better”, that sure is a lot of dongles.

The New MacBook Pro

So our intrepid road warrior bites the bullet, and buys a new MacBook Pro. They want all the same connectivity options. So, they replace or add bits, resulting in the following inventory of cables and such:

  • Thunderbolt 3 – Ethernet adapter (or USB-C/Ethernet adapter)
  • USB-C to USB-Micro B cable
  • USB-C to USB-Mini B cable
  • 2 x USB-C to Lightning cables
  • USB-A to Apple Watch charge cable
  • USB-C to VGA adapter
  • USB-C to DVI adapter
  • HDMI cable
  • Ethernet cable
  • USB-C to SD Card adapter (or a USB-A to SD Card adapter)
  • Apple USB-C multimedia adapter (has an HDMI, USB-A and USB-C port)

Math time: that is 12 cables and adapters. Two more than before (highlighted in italics). You might add one more USB-C to USB-A adapter, taking it to 3 more.  All this adds, at most, a couple of extra ounces of weight. To complain about “all those extra dongles” is total rubbish. It doesn’t withstand scrutiny.

Cost Is A Bigger Factor

The biggest problem with the move to all Thunderbolt 3 isn’t the “extra dongles”. It’s the extra cost. We’re talking easily $200-300 on top of the cost of an already expensive machine. Some might argue that, if you can afford the price of the new MacBook Pro, then maybe you should be able to swing the replacement of cables and adapters. But that’s a pretty weak defence of the change.

However, the flip side is that Thunderbolt 3 is coming, and those legacy ports are going to disappear on other machines in time. There are plenty of Wintel notebooks that offer Thunderbolt 3 (or even just USB-C), but there aren’t any that use Thunderbolt 3 exclusively. Not yet. Is Apple jumping the gun? A little, perhaps, but this isn’t nearly as big a deal as the beyond-stupid decision to drop the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

For the next couple of years, there is some short-term pain. That pain is not the “abundance of dongles you’ll need”, because you won’t need to carry substantially more than you do now. The pain is more the hit to the bank balance as you have to replace a bunch of cables. The flip side: odds are you are replacing them anyways. Let’s face it, those stupid cables can be like socks in the dryer at times, mysteriously disappearing when you need one, and you end up buying yet another one (only to find the one you were looking for the next day).

So let’s get real here. The new MacBook Pro has it’s flaws. The whole “all those dongles” bit is total BS. Stop pretending it’s a thing.



One thought on “What Dongle Hell?

  1. Pingback: So Do I Want A MacBook Pro? | Thoughts from Geoff Kratz

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