Making The Grade is a weekly series from Bradley Chambers covering Apple in education. Bradley has been managing Apple devices in an education environment since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing 100s of Macs and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple’s products work at scale, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for students.
Much has been said about the transition from USB-A to USB-C. It certainly hasn’t been without its challenges in the short term. It’s been confusing for users (and expensive), but as someone who manages a fleet of Macs, I am excited. Yes, even if in the short term it has been expensive and confusing. In the long term, I am thrilled to be standardizing on one cable to rule them all. As tough as USB-C has been so far, IT departments have been dealing with “dongles” for years.
Even prior to the Intel transition, we had dongles. The first Mac I ever owned was the Powerbook G4 (side note: that was an amazing laptop) included two dongles in the box. They were the mini-DVI to VGA and mini-DVI to VGA adaptors. From then on, I’ve had to deal with the “dongle life”. After that laptop, I had a unibody MacBook (Mini DisplayPort). After that, it was the MacBook Air (with Thunderbolt), and now I have a 2015 MacBook Pro (with a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adaptor).
The majority of the staff I support has MacBook Airs, and while it has USB-A, almost every teacher has a Thunderbolt to HDMI or Thunderbolt to VGA cable. In the short term, it’s going to be a frustrating transition, but these things take time.
As someone who is responsible for buying Macs in bulk, I am really excited about USB-C long term, and here’s why:
One cable for everything
From charging, external hard drive, and ethernet adaptors, USB-C offers the promise of one port for all activities. This solution will be a lot easier to explain to folks when deploying new devices. I don’t have to say video devices go into the port and your iPhone goes here. I can simply say: plug any cable into any device, and it’ll work.
Since USB-C is an open standard, I can replace damaged Apple power cords with Anker USB-C cables for a lot less money. Right now, when a MagSafe adaptor breaks, I have to spend $80 on a new one. If a teacher wants an extra cable to keep at home, I can safely recommend non-Apple brands without fear of damaging the device.
Like I mentioned earlier, transitions do take time, but I also know that USB-C is compatible with older USB devices using an adaptor. I don’t foresee buying a USB-C to USB-A adaptor for every employee, but I could see a few of them adding it on for legacy devices.
Overall, it’s going to be a few more years of transition, but we will be better for it. USB-A has served us well (along with MagSafe and Thunderbolt), but it’s better for users in the long term for the industry to standardize on one cable for everything. I know that in the long run, users will be happier for it. Once we get to a place where USB-C is on the other end of everything (monitors, external drives, etc), we will be at a really great place with accessories. We will no longer be dealing with USB, HDMI, charging cords, etc. We will have One Cable To Rule Them All.