Archive for October 14, 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

The Impossible Dream of USB-C

Marco Arment (via Hacker News):

While a wide variety of USB-C dongles are available, most use the same handful of unreliable, mediocre chips inside. Some USB-A dongles make Wi-Fi drop on MacBook Pros. Some USB-A devices don’t work properly when adapted to USB-C, or only work in certain ports. Some devices only work when plugged directly into a laptop’s precious few USB-C ports, rather than any hubs or dongles. And reliable HDMI output seems nearly impossible in practice.

Very few hubs exist to add more USB-C ports, so if you have more than a few peripherals, you can’t just replace all of their cables with USB-C versions. You’ll need a hub that provides multiple USB-A ports instead, and you’ll need to keep your USB-A cables for when you’re plugged into the hub — but also keep USB-C cables or dongles around for everything you might ever need to plug directly into the computer’s ports.

Hubs with additional USB-C ports might pass Thunderbolt through to them, but usually don’t. Sometimes, they add a USB-C port that can only be used for power passthrough. Many hubs with power passthrough have lower wattage limits than a 13-inch or 15-inch laptop needs.

It’s been about 2 1/2 years since the 12-inch MacBook introduced USB-C to Macs. How are the hub and dongle choices still so poor? At first I thought USB-C was an annoyance and an additional expense. You have to buy new cables and hubs, but then it’s smooth sailing and ultimately worth the hassle. Increasingly, it seems like no one can actually complete the transition because there are essential pieces of the puzzle that don’t exist.

It’s not simpler to replace a bunch of different cables that look different with a bunch of cables that look the same but are actually different.

I previously thought that maybe Apple should replace Lightning on iPhones with USB-C. Now I’m not so sure. Aside from all the issues Arment mentions, having used USB-C for a while now, I don’t think the connector is as nice.

Update (2017-10-15): Wojtek Pietrusiewicz:

This is the main reason I have been trying, not completely successfully, to keep as many things wireless as possible.

Imagine that—putting up with slow and unreliable wireless connections because the wired options are so bad.

The iMore and Wirecutter USB-C roundups list no actual hubs that increase the number of USB-C ports. I did find this Belkin hub that adds a single non-charging USB-C port. However, it’s not currently available and has only 1.7 stars, with reviewers complaining that it breaks Wi-Fi and doesn’t have enough power for charging.

At this rate, that 2015 MacBook will lose its AppleCare coverage before there is actually a good selection of USB-C peripherals for it.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

USB-C is such a mess, and Apple bears a central role in just why it’s so fucked up. For shame.

I don’t know how much responsibility Apple bears for USB-C itself, but (a) Apple decided to switch its notebooks to USB-C before the ecosystem was ready, and (b) knowing there was a dearth of accessories it created only a few basic first-party adapters, leaving its customers out in the cold.

Update (2017-10-17): John Gruber:

Second, even if you do your homework and know exactly what to look for, there is severe dearth of USB-C products out there. The USB-C hub market is horrendous, but Apple’s MacBook has just one USB-C port, effectively demanding a hub for certain tasks that require external peripherals. Now that all modern Apple MacBooks are USB-C-only, USB-C’s problems are MacBook problems, too.

Update (2017-10-20): None of these USB-C “hubs” actually give you more USB-C ports, either.

Boris Bügling found an Aukey hub that adds two USB-C ports, albeit with limited power. Oddly, it’s not available from the US Amazon store, nor is it shown on Aukey’s own site.

Update (2018-02-13): Zach Holman:

Here I am, out at a cafe, with nearly $4000 worth of the latest Apple hardware around me, and none of four fucking devices plug directly into each other. Even when they do, I can’t help but feel worse off using Apple’s own accessories and hardware today when than I did four years ago.

What is going on with Apple’s accessory ecosystem these days?

Update (2018-06-05): Jonathan Wight:

Wanted female USB-C to male Lightning adapters that aren’t junk.

Literally every review on Amazon for such an adapter says “doesn’t work out of the box”

Encouraging!

Update (2018-06-25): Matt Birchler:

I didn’t know this was a propblem with USB-C phones. Apparently charging and listening is really only something you can assume Lightning does 🤷🏻‍♂️

Update (2018-07-24): Alexis Gallagher:

And get a load of the soap opera so far:

  1. USB has always forbidden high current at 5 V
  2. Then USB-C PD provided a spec that allows it
  3. Just kidding! USB-C PD 3 now forbids it again.

Update (2018-07-30): Accidental Tech Podcast reports on a rumor that next year Intel will finally ship the chip that’s needed for making a USB-C that adds additional type-C ports.

Update (2018-08-23): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast and Cortex.