Apple’s new MacBook is enticing, but lack of ports gives pause

by Larry Magid:

macbookI have to admit I was a bit lustful when Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the sleek new MacBook at the company’s big launch event. For me, it stole the show — I’m not at all interested in spending $350 or more for an Apple Watch, but I am tempted to spend $1,299 for the new laptop.

The new MacBook weighs only two pounds, is only half an inch thick and is pretty much only as wide as its full-sized keyboard. It’s actually about the same thickness as the original iPad and only a half-pound heavier.

For me, the weight of a laptop matters a lot because I carry one around almost everywhere I go. When I’m at CES or other trade shows, I have my laptop with me all day, and anything I can do to shave off a pound or so is welcome relief to my back, arms and shoulders.

In some ways, it reminds me of 1998, when Steve Jobs introduced the first mainstream computer without a floppy drive. I have to admit, I was one of the reviewers who criticized Jobs for leaving off such an essential component on that first iMac, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to the idea of a floppy-less machine, and soon all other PC makers followed in Apple’s footsteps.

Apple did it again in 2008. At that time, just about all desktop and notebook PCs had an optical drive to read and write CDs and DVDs, but when Jobs introduced the MacBook Air — the ultrathin laptop of its time — it came without an optical drive. And, once again, most PC makers followed. Although you can purchase an external optical drive from Apple and other manufacturers, they are no longer standard issue in most laptops and even on some desktops.

So, it appears as if Tim Cook is following in Jobs’ footsteps by suggesting that, when it comes to connectors, less is more.

It’s easy to be skeptical about Apple’s decision to jettison the ports, especially if you agree with my assertion that being ultrathin isn’t necessarily an important feature. Yes, those ports would have made the MacBook slightly thicker, but they would have added almost no weight.

As a potential buyer, I am thinking twice about getting a device that requires me to purchase, carry around, and plug-in dongles to connect devices that I’ll need almost every day. One of the reasons I bought a 13-inch MacBook Air instead of the 11-inch is because the larger one has an SD-card reader, meaning I had one less adapter to carry around and plug-in when I want to transfer images from my camera to my laptop.

For me, the new Mac will require frequent use of dongles. But, given Apple’s track record in convincing the entire industry to do away with “essential” components, it’s worth considering that perhaps Apple might be on to something, especially as it becomes increasingly easy to connect devices without wires.

Eventually, that external microphone I plug into my Mac to record my CBS radio segments will have a wireless connection — probably low-powered Bluetooth, but perhaps something else. And the same is true for that external hard drive or the Brother label printer that I just can’t do without. Already many printers connect to PCs, Macs and mobile devices via Wi-Fi and — going forward — we’re going to see a lot more cord cutting.

The day will come when computers will have — at most — a single wire. And even that power cord will eventually soon be unnecessary as manufactures start using inductive chargers like the PowerMat system that’s used to charge smartphones simply by placing them on a mat. That day may be pretty close. Last month, Dell announced that it joined the Alliance for Wireless Power so it can use magnetic resonance technology to charge future laptops.

In the meantime, if you’re a road warrior who doesn’t need to plug in peripherals or just likes living on the bleeding edge of technology, the new MacBook could be right for you. Otherwise, Apple — and its competitors — have you covered, with plenty of laptops that weigh less than three pounds but do have those handy ports.