Apple's Quest to Kill the Dongle

Apple's impressive adapter line-up. Consider this their Most Wanted List.

Apple's impressive adapter line-up. Consider this their Most Wanted List.

Abdel Ibrahim at AppAdvice had an interesting take on what could be Apple's view of the future of dongles:

With the introduction of the new MacBook Pro, Apple has made it clear that it believes that USB-C is the future. Not only are they saying it’s the future for external peripherals like monitors, and external hard drives, but they’ve also abandoned Magsafe, the company’s beloved charging port, in favor of it.

But what most people aren’t realizing is that while Apple is making a record number of dongles and adapters, what they’re doing is trying to kill them off.

He makes a compelling argument. In short, Apple is trying to unify the ports on their Mac lineup. Outside of the MacBook Air and previous generation MacBook Pros, all of Apple's newest notebook models contain USB-C and only USB-C ports. (Yes, I'm ignoring the headphone jack; Apple ignored it on the iPhone 7, so I think I can safely do so here.)

While, in the short term, it might require people to buy adapters and dongles to connect things like SD cards and existing USB peripherals, it also is moving Apple's line to a single, and quite versatile, port. 

If we widen our view, Apple's quest to kill the dongle has been happening for a while. Most recently, Apple's removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 means wireless headphones are a more valuable option. But those headphones would work on more than just the iPhone. And to connect to anything else, you don't need a certain cable or port.

Going back further, Apple's removal of the ethernet port on the previous MacBook Pro models could also be seen as this intention. Wireless is how the majority of users connect their notebooks, even in a work environment. But while wireless was a capable alternative for ethernet in 2012, USB-C was still too early to replace everything else. But in 2016, it's capable of doing it all.

Many may complain about the design of the new MacBook Pro, but I would argue that this is one of the target designs they had wanted to do for many years. And in the end, it'll only be a temporary pain point. 

My take on the leaked MacBook Pro image

You'd think Apple would hold back some things from their OS updates. This is straight from macOS Sierra's 10.12.1 update.

Some thoughts:

  • The model would appear to be a 13-inch MacBook Pro, yet it shows speakers no the sides. If the MacBook Pros are to have a smaller footprint, then the keyboard is likely to shrink. My guess is it's using the same keyboard found in the MacBook. This leaves room for the speakers.
  • Touch ID coming to the Mac is a great move. But how is it being implemented? Apple has been adamant about security on their iOS devices, which is why the Secure Enclave is so important. To include Touch ID on the Mac, Apple is likely also including a secure chip, possibly the same Secure Enclave found in the iPhone 7. 
  • As rumored, the function keys are gone. In their place seems to be an OLED touch bar. Some say it'll be running on an ARM chip, with comparisons being that of integrating an iOS device into the Mac. How much access will developers get to this? And will someone hack it to run UIKit?
  • Speaking of Touch ID, it is a dedicated part of the touch bar. Note the outline on the far right, similar to the ring around the home button on iOS devices.

While this takes away some of the magic of the Apple event on Thursday, I am excited to hear more about these Macs and what else is new and improved in them. If Apple is okay adding new chips to support the touch bar, are there other hardware improvements, even more custom silicon, worth mentioning?

Apple invests $1 billion in China's Uber


Apple Inc said on Thursday it has invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, a move that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said would help the company better understand the critical Chinese market.

The move aligns Apple with Uber Technologies Inc's chief rival in China, as automakers and technology companies forge new alliances and make cross investments. General Motors (GM.N), for example, recently bought autonomous driving technology company Cruise Automation and has also taken a stake in U.S. ride-sharing company Lyft.

That's a huge investment into a ride-hailing service. And while there's something to be said about understanding a critical market, does this investment benefit existing products or future ones?

I like where Glenn Fleishman went with this tweet:

Apple won't always be the iPhone company

Apple is not your typical company. But it isn't just the way it is organized that sets it apart. It also has to do with how Apple spends their R&D money. While many companies spend their money looking into a bunch of ideas, Apple instead focuses on products. But what is Apple doing with all of their R&D spending?

Neil Cybart has a great article at Above Avalon that looks into Apple's R&D trend.

People are focusing on the wrong thing when analyzing Apple's path forward in the face of slowing iPhone sales. Instead of debating how much Apple will try to monetize the iPhone user base with services (not as much as consensus thinks), the company is instead planning its largest pivot yet. There are only a handful of logical explanations for Apple's current R&D expense trajectory, and all of them result in a radically different Apple. In a few years, we are no longer going to refer to Apple as the iPhone company.

It's a fairly bold statement to say that we won't always refer to Apple as the iPhone company. But if their increase is spending is indeed to focus on new products, perhaps something as different as a car, then it may not be a farfetched idea.

Ultimately, this requires some longer term thinking than your average financial analyst. Wall Street is always focused on the short term. But Apple is focused on the future, even if they don't publicly tell us what they are working on. This leaves everyone thinking Apple has fallen behind. In reality, they're planning the next revolution.

Check out Neil Cybart's entire post at Above Avalon. When you're done, you too may see the high possibility of Apple's coming pivot. The big question remaining: what product is going to identify Apple next?

'Security is an endless race'

Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at Apple, in an Op-ed at The Washington Post:

That’s why it’s so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. They have suggested that the safeguards of iOS 7 were good enough and that we should simply go back to the security standards of 2013. But the security of iOS 7, while cutting-edge at the time, has since been breached by hackers. What’s worse, some of their methods have been productized and are now available for sale to attackers who are less skilled but often more malicious.

Some people see Apple's stance as siding with 'terrorists'. Just look in the comments section of any number of online articles on the Apple vs FBI issue and you'll see such remarks. But security has needed to improve to keep hackers out. The (unfortunate?) side-effect is the government's inability to get into a device. Should that be backtracked for everyone so a minute number of devices can be inspected?

Also notable from this article: yet another Apple executive telling the situation as it is. The government's request is as simple as he makes it: they miss the security level of iOS versions gone by. But Craig is right when he calls security an "endless race". The smarter the engineers creating new technology become, the smarter malicious players become, too.

The Junk Drawer Problem

Ever since Apple introduced folders in iOS 4, it’s been possible for users to hide away unused apps in a single location. But while people could just delete most apps, Apple builds in apps into iOS that can’t be deleted at all. And each year, with each iOS release, the number of unremovable apps increases.

It is nice to hear that Apple is working on it. But in a way, we might already be seeing what they’re going to do

Read More