USB-C And The Challenge of Change

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The first patent for an electrical clothes iron was filed by Henry Seely of New York City in 1881. Besides the numerous safety concerns that needed to be solved before bringing it to market, there was also the issue of even being able to use the device in homes. At the time most electrical use in homes was for light sources and some of the first electric appliances were powered by connecting them to lightbulb sockets.

Seely’s device wasn’t too far ahead of its time. Patents for more familiar plug and socket systems started appearing in Europe in 1883. But it wasn’t until the mid-1920s that an electric steam iron became commercially available as a consumer product. In fact, none of Seely’s original devices exist to this day. His invention is often considered a great example of something just too far ahead of its time for its own good. But in tech innovation, being ahead of the times is what gets things going.

Upon debut in 1998, the iMac was the first consumer computer to ship sans a 3.5 inch floppy disk drive. In addition to this deliberately bold absence, the iMac also made use of USB ports in place of classic “legacy ports” such as PS/2, VGA, and serial.

These bastards.

Here’s how everything in the world works;

If you want something to become better you have to take the steps to get there. If want to run a marathon, you have to train and be disciplined and manage your dietary intake and do all kinds of things that make your body hurt while it becomes stronger. If you’re trying to get the hotel in a game of Monopoly, then you know that you have to buy four green houses before getting to that sweet, sweet red (unless you play like a barbarian with bank loans and Free Parking money).

Like anything worth doing, you can’t just whip up the best computer in the world and be done with it. Getting there is a long and gradual process of trial, failure, and occaisional bouts of innovation. As long as computers are a main hub for productivity, learning, and general everyday tasks, we will never reach a specific end goal of Best Computer Ever. It’s a potentially infinite road that is paved by some of the smartest people on the planet.

Critics, and the public at large, are skeptical of sudden change in computing standards. That’s understandable, because it usually requires to buying more things. Things that aren’t usually cheap. But at the same time, everyone wants their computers and electronics to be faster and more efficient.

Consumer products are made by large business that need to make money to survive. As long as people buy what the sell, they can keep doing what they do. The most idiotic complaint directed at the tech world is “why would update that model? I just bought one last year! I’m so mad!” People assume they got ripped off when a product is updated too soon after they buy one.

But any company worth its salt won’t let a product line stagnate and wither. Smart, successful companies are always working to improve the latest versions of their goods. That means tinkering with it until it’s ready for a big update. Keep in mind that in the computing world, a lot of things get built from scratch. Extensive testing and returns to the drawing board are not uncommon. This can take a while, and it makes sense to push the current product as far as it can go in the meantime. And when it comes time to replace yours, you will find a newly enriched product; often with a similar price tag, often with more powerful guts.

This week, Apple caused an interesting ruckus with the reintroduction of the MacBook, minus the “Air” and “Pro” descriptors. It’s a pretty piece of machinery that’s stupid thin and boasts Apple’s trademark minimalism. But is it too minimalist? There are only two ports on the device. A standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a multi-purpose USB-C port.

As more manufacturers include USB-C in their products, it’s poised to become an industry standard. Unlike Apple’s other cables such as Lightening and Thunderbolt (developed with Intel and used by other manufacturers as well), USB-C is a true catch-all cable. As you’ve probably guessed by the lack of other ports on the new MacBook, USB-C is a power cable as well. It’s also a high-speed data transfer and AV I/O cable. And it’s very thin – almost as thin as the Lightning charging cable.

Whether you like Apple or not, you have admit that they are respected as tastemakers of the tech world. The iMac’s bold design choices set a personal computing standard that has evolved across many companies’ products to this day. iTunes stared down physical media in entertainment while cracked its knuckles and muttering, “I’m coming for you, man.” Smartphones were around before the iPhone, but no one could get one right until Apple banished the physical keyboards that were holding the ideas back.

The pattern is consistent. Apple takes a good idea, strips away any of the unnecessary crap, and makes it more efficient. By innovating with the purpose of removing unnecessary junk, Apple has consistently changed the way we transfer data from our various devices. And with wireless charging soon poised to make a debut in personal computers, one data port is all you’ll need.

Sometimes you have to be crazy enough to release a product a little before its time. And for now, the other Macs still have their ports; Apple is playing it smart by not tinkering with any of their current product line, but instead resurrecting a dead one to experiment with.

And you if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

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