Apple’s rumored 12-inch MacBook Air may aggressively target mobility via USB 3.1 Type-C

“The latest rumors of a new 12-inch MacBook Air model describe an ultra-thin laptop that drops nearly all of its physical ports for a single audio jack and USB 3.1 Type-C connector, features that were first revealed last April and further detailed in specifications documents released by Intel, with significant contributions by Apple, in September,” Daniel Eran Dilger writes for AppleInsider.

“There are some real tradeoffs in getting rid of today’s MagSafe, dual USB ports, SD Card slot and Thunderbolt. However, as brisk sales of iPads have demonstrated, most buyers care more about price and utility (including mobility) than they do about hooking a light, thin mobile device up to a RAID array, an external HD display or even multiple USB peripherals,” Dilger writes. “With AirPrint, AirPlay, AirDrop, Bluetooth, iCloud and other wireless networking features, wired ports are becoming less and less necessary, particularly as 802.11ac WiFi wireless speeds begin to compete with USB cables.”

“WiFi is currently no match for Thunderbolt in either displays or for connectivity with external high speed devices. However, Apple and Intel have worked together to develop both Thunderbolt and the latest USB 3.1 specification. Details in the latest USB spec indicate that Apple does indeed plan to use the new, smaller Type-C port to replace other ports, reaping exterior space and internal volume savings and reducing confusion for users,” Dilger writes. “Part of what makes that possible is that USB 3.1 is designed to support much faster data speeds than existing USB (while remaining backwardly compatible with existing devices): starting at 5Gbps (Gen1) and eventually reaching 10Gbps (Gen2). That’s achieved over 8 conductors via faster clock timing and more efficient data signaling.”

Dilger writes, “In addition to being faster, USB 3.1 also introduces a new 12-pin Type-C port design, with significant input from Apple engineers (there are 18 Apple employees listed as contributions in the specification, more than any other computer maker and three times as many as Samsung).”

Tons more in the full article here.

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Peak laptop: Whittling down the MacBook to an iPad – January 9, 2015
Here’s how Apple could eliminate almost every port on its next MacBook Air – January 8, 2015
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The new 12-Inch MacBook Air rumors don’t make sense – January 7, 2015
Why Apple’s new 12-inch MacBook Air can abandon almost all ports – January 6, 2015
Apple’s next major Mac revealed: Meet the radically new 12-inch MacBook Air – January 6, 2015

27 Comments

    1. you’re right. I still remember the first macbook air. When you went into an apple store no one was going near it. People were confused. “2 GB of RAM was non-upgradable, it had a smaller, slower hard drive, no firewire ports, no ethernet port, a single USB port, no optical audio output, no audio input, and, for the first time since the PowerBook 2400, no internal optical drive”(apple-history.com).

      I remember a relative of mine(windows user) snubbed their nose at it and told me “see how much apple sucks, there isn’t even a floppy or cd drive in it”. I had to explain to the person that the air was the future. apple is showing what the near future is going to be like. Relative couldn’t comprehend a future without cd’s and floppies. SMH

      1. You say that as if the original MacBook Air was simply ahead of its time and not lacking in functionality that Apple would eventually implement which would lead to its success.

        The MacBook Air really took off when multiple ports were added, the SD slot, backlit keyboard, and more importantly when the overall power of it (CPU, SSD, RAM) raised it to a level where it could meet the needs of most users as opposed to being an ultra light web browser with a keyboard.

        The mockup of the MBA 12″, specifically with just one port that serves as power and USB-C, isn’t “a couple of years ahead of its time” in a good way. Most users are going to find it extraordinarily frustrating that there isn’t at least two USB-C ports on the thing.

        Removing an optical drive is one thing, but reducing the device to one USB-C port would be forced minimalism without any benefit in size, weight, or battery life. The only USB-C controllers available today support multiple ports, so it’s literally a “savings” of the size/weight of the extremely small port itself.

        It just doesn’t make sense (which leads me to think the rumor is wrong on the single USB-C port).

        I say this as I type on my MacBook Air 11″ with one port used for power and another one charging my iPhone.

    1. Chances are the next rMBP also gets smaller and lighter but will have the ports that Professionals require including Thunderbolt 3. There will be a clear differentiation between those who prioritize mobility (12″ MBA) vs power / peripherals (rMBP).

    1. I look at it as an iPad on steroids, or a super light portable laptop. A hybrid for people who find the iPad not quite up to their needs, but something that is as easy to lug around as an iPad.

      Just like some people opt for an iPhone 6+, which doubles as their iPad. It fills a niche that some people either want or need, or afford.

      I own an iPhone 6 and an iPad Air. My phone was my go to device for content consumption. Since I got my iPad, I rarely use my phone anymore. The iPad with tax and AppleCare was around $900. A iPhone is something like $600. For a few dollars more for an iPhone 6+, I could have just gone back to using the phone and saved half a grand.

    1. Thankfully this looks like a standard that others will actually widely adopt (unlike Firewire or Thunderbolt), and it’s not a controlled spec (like Lightning), so I’m sure there’ll be cheap adapters available within a year… for better or worse, buyer beware, etc. For example I’m sure the really cheap ones will only provide USB2 circuitry and speeds, not USB3 (I have a USB extension cable like this), and probably can’t handle the new power requirements for USB 3/3.1.

  1. If these truly have only one USB port, there will be a nice market for microhubs.

    Other than large data transfers and projectors, however, I almost never hook anything to my MBA thanks to cloud storage.

    It looks like we are getting close to an era of untethered laptops!

  2. When I got my iPhone 6, I finally had something to test out the full potential of my 802.11ac gigabit router.

    Syncing with iTunes on my Ethernet-connected Mac was blazingly fast compared to USB of yesteryear. If most file transfers can be done that quickly without wires, consider a market for portable wifi storage that can handshake with devices via Bluetooth a la AirDrop.

    One less port needed…

  3. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Apple went all-in with USB-C, as in abandoning Thunderbolt and Lightning. Both served their purposes well during their brief moments in time, but there are too many advantages of going with USB-C across the board.

    What surprises me is that Apple didn’t push for the Lightning connector to be the USB-C connector the same way they pushed for Mini DisplayPort to be the Thunderbolt port.

    1. I can easily see Apple abandoning Lightning for USB-C, since the EU has pretty much mandated standard USB for mobile devices. Granted that’s the vastly inferior *micro*-USB with its only-1-way connector, but if there was wiggle room for Apple to comply by shipping micro-USB to Lightning adapters, I’m sure upgrading to a new standard is ok too.

      Thunderbolt I’m not so sure about. USB 3.1 is only just reaching the speed of TB1, and TB2 is coming out which will be 2x faster. It’s obvious everyone else will consider USB 3.1 “good enough” but you’d never be able to use USB 3.1 to drive 5K displays (10 Gbps is barely enough to drive 4K at 24Hz, and you wouldn’t be running *anything* else on that USB port), so Apple would still need TB2 or the new Displayport 1.3 for hi-res external displays.

      1. True, but I don’t see USB topping out at 10 Gbps either. It’s going to continue to evolve in both speed and power as well even with the same USB-C connector.

        So we may see Thunderbolt surviving a little longer on the higher (Pro) end, but it seems likely to be swallowed up by USB, having well served pro users during its brief period.

        1. Good observations by both of you.

          The MacBook Air is a wonderful device, but it’s design goal is to provide a delicate balance of good performance, easy portability and long battery life. More I/O ports, including Thunderbolt, upsets this design balance with more internal design complexity in the computer and high battery drain, especially when driving bus-powered devices.

          The MacBook Pro is a better choice for those who are doing demanding tasks such as video and audio production, and need more/faster I/O. Plus I think Apple’s offering of the MacBook Air 12 will allow them to better differentiate the Air line from the Pro line.

          1. I agree that loading it up with a variety of ports defeats the purpose of the MacBook Air, on the other hand, having just one port that’s serving dual purpose of power/USB would kill the product for a lot of people as opposed to having just one more USB-C port. A second USB-C port really wouldn’t add much in terms of weight, size, or power requirements, since the USB controller already supports multiple ports.

            In other words having a second port would open the MBA to much more usability and makes it a viable product to far more people while not doing anything to decrease the portability of the MBA.

            One USB-C port would be forced minimalism.

  4. I have been using a 13.3 Macbook Air for over a year now. It is a truly great computer.

    That said, I have yet to have a need to use the current Thunderbolt port, which might prove their point about needing to pare down I/O slots. Also, I think it is time for USB 1.1 through 3.0 to follow Firewire into the tech dustbin.

    But like many others, I am a fan of the MagSafe connector. It has saved this computer from peril several times.

    It is probably too late in the design process, but if they offered two 3.1 USB ports (one on each side) and provided a MagSafe adapter as part of the base kit, I’d be in line early to buy one of the new MacBook Air 12’s.

    1. I must admit only a few years ago having boasted about the superiority of MagSafe and how it was the way forward, a must have advantage over the opposition, for Apple to simply dump it unceremoniously now would be pretty 2 faced, erratic and contemptuous of we its buyers.

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