If you are asked to highlight the most striking feature of the Mac Studio, you might say “it’s a stretched Mac Mini” or “it can be equipped with the M1 Ultra, dude”. But there is a detail that few people noticed: the model comes with several connections, including two classic ports USB type A (USB-A). It’s like Apple is saying, “USB-C didn’t win. Not yet”.
As Monica Chin well observes, in The Verge, Apple has messed with the connectivity of MacBook generations in recent years. Mixed a lot! The latest models in the range only have a few USB-C ports, although you can also find an HDMI connection on the MacBook Pro.
A similar phenomenon has been noticed in the Windows notebook market, albeit at a totally different pace. Some sophisticated models, such as the Dell XPS lines, are so compact that they don’t support USB-A ports.
There are two plausible — and somewhat obvious — explanations for this: high-end notebooks are getting thinner and thinner (except for the gaming segment); USB-C ports are small, reversible and, depending on the machine, Thunderbolt compatible.
It is only natural, therefore, for USB-C ports to replace the traditional USB-A standard. But, by launching a device with two connections of this type in the middle of 2022, Apple signals that this movement is far from complete.
USB-A bravely resists
There is context, of course. Mac Studio is a desktop with a professional purpose, to be used as a complete workstation. That’s why it has a wide set of ports.
On the front are two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 (or USB 10 Gb/s on the M1 Max version) and an SDXC card slot; on the back, there are four USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4, an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, a headphone jack and two USB-A ports.
USB-C came up with the proposal to unify connections. The idea is excellent. Instead of USB-A, mini-USB and micro-USB, how about we use a connector capable of replacing all these standards and, what breaks, working with other technologies?
But a change of this magnitude doesn’t happen overnight. We need to go through a transition period. The problem is that, in the case of USB-C, this period already lasts for more than seven years.
USB-C worked, but…
Today, most Android phones leave the factory with a USB-C connection. On MacBooks, type ports predominate. On PCs, the standard gains more and more space. Despite this, USB-A and micro-USB ports are still found in droves.
One of the reasons for this is that there are still a lot of devices that use classic USB connections: keyboards, mice, webcams, external hard drives, flash drives, chargers, headsets and so on.
This scenario conditions the user of a MacBook Pro or a Dell XPS 13, for example, to have USB hubs or USB-C to USB-A adapters nearby.
This probably explains why Apple hasn’t given up on USB-A yet. In addition to Mac Studio, the standard is present on Mac Pro (via expansion card, but branded) and Mac Mini with M1.
It’s not like Apple isn’t trying to ditch USB-A on the desktop. Proof of this is that the standard is no longer present on the iMac. But, as with PCs, the connector bravely resists in the company’s ecosystem as a matter of demand. How long will it be like this? It’s hard to know.
If USB-A ports were only kept for compatibility with old accessories and gadgets, we could bet on a definitive departure from the standard by Apple in the near future. But the fact is that many devices still leave the factory with type-A connectors, not to mention that, even today, USB-C-based products tend to be more expensive. These factors weigh against a more drastic decision.
On the one hand, this scenario is positive. With USB-A ports available, many of our accessories will continue to be useful. On the other hand, we will have to live for a long time with a wide variety of cables, connectors and adapters.
In Apple’s case, this is a curious situation, after all, the company has embraced USB-C on Macs and iPads, but keeps Lightning at its best on the iPhone, further increasing this fragmentation of standards, so to speak.
The day must come when USB-C will reign supreme. Technologies like USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 can contribute enormously to this. But the industry and the market do not adapt by force. The Type-C connector has numerous advantages, but in many applications, USB-A still does the trick. As long as this is the case, the type A connector will remain between us.