Got dongles? Got adapters? Of course you do. I suspect it’s not a universal affliction, but I don’t know many Apple customers who do not have a few dongles or adapters or too many old cables. I’m certain that I have more than most (a hoarder gene that refuses to be compromised by modern chemistry).
Allow me to broaden the definitions a bit. If you have iPhone earbuds or use headphones, they fall into the dongle class. If you have the headphone jack that connects earbuds and headphones to the iPhone’s Lightning connector, you have a dongle.
That means cables, adapters, and dongles are universal.
A dongle is a small piece of hardware that connects to another device to provide it with additional functionality. In relation to computing, the term is primarily associated with hardware providing a copy protection mechanism for commercial software—in which the dongle must be attached to the system that the software is installed on in order for it to function.
Wait. There’s more.
The term “dongle” is also associated with similar devices meant to provide additional forms of wireless connectivity to devices (such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth support), often over USB connections, as well as small digital media players (such as Amazon Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, and Roku Streaming Stick) and personal computers (such as Chromebit and Intel Compute Stick) meant to plug directly into an HDMI input on a television.
And the list goes on.
Dongles and adapters are much like the many and varied power connectors we use to charge or power electronic devices. There isn’t much of a standard other than electricity, so most of us have a box or kitchen drawer full of such bricks and connectors, and a pile of old cables no longer in use.
Whenever Apple makes a change from one connector to another the collective digital hair on critic’s heads catch fire. According to such perspectives we are better off with serial ports and parallel ports from the late 1970s.
No we’re not. Change happens and Apple has pushed more change upon the industry than any other technology gadget maker; some were or are proprietary, and some were for the general good of the industry.
USB? Apple pushed Intel’s new serial buss standard into the original iMac and what do we have everywhere these days? Umpteen dozen different USB connectors, but the latest, USB-C, is taking off like wildfire (free Mixed Metaphor shipping for Amazon Prime members this past weekend) but brings with it more confusion. Through the years I’ve seen serial connectors, parallel connectors, SCSI connectors, Apple’s proprietary ADB connectors, and even more USB connectors than all others combined.
Along the way, Apple pushed FireWire and USB (they’re different; USB won) and now Thunderbolt with USB-C on the same connector. Maybe. Sometimes. That would seem like good news. One connector that does almost everything– fast data transfer, backwards compatible with USB, video and audio transfer, and so on. All in one simple, reversible, small connector. If only it worked that way. Marco Arment thinks differently:
USB-C normally transfers data by the USB protocol, but it also supports Thunderbolt… sometimes. The 12-inch MacBook has a USB-C port, but it doesn’t support Thunderbolt at all. All other modern MacBook models support Thunderbolt over their USB-C ports… but if you have a 13-inch model, and it has a Touch Bar, then the right-side ports don’t have full Thunderbolt bandwidth.
If you bought a USB-C cable, it might support Thunderbolt, or it might not. There’s no way to tell by looking at it. There’s usually no way to tell whether a given USB-C device requires Thunderbolt, either — you just need to plug it in and see if it works.
Apple has USB-C in the newer MacBook and MacBook Pro models, newer iMac models, and we’re likely to see it rolled out to future Mac Pro and Mac mini models, and increasingly, we see it in Windows PCs, Chromebooks, and Android-based smartphones. It’s easy to think USB-C won. Whatever the victory, it will be short-lived. John Gruber:
USB-C is a dual disaster. It’s fundamentally confusing because all USB-C ports and plugs look the same, but can have very different features. It’s a fundamental axiom of good design that things that look the same should be the same, and things that are different should look different. USB-C breaks this.
Yet, this far into the 21st century and we still have a drawer full of dongles and adapters, not to mention many different power supplies, and a growing collection of cables, each with different connectors, and some with the same connectors that do different things.
Apple forces changes upon customers and that helps to advance standards and provides the industry with a path towards ever more useful devices. But along the way, there’s the refuse of dongles, adapters, connectors, cables, and outdated power bricks from yesteryear. USB-C does not help that situation.
That clutter and convolution seems to be the nature of the industry, but also reflective of humankind’s need to move onward, Electronic clutter, landfills, and toxic waste be damned. I don’t mind defending the need for dongles and adapters and new cable standards, but the industry could be much better at handling an already confusing situation.