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Ain’t that the cutest little thing

nomad

I really do like Apple products, but there’s one thing about them that really annoys me: the ever-shifting arrangement of connectors. Every Mac device seems to have a slightly different array of ports, and you need different cables with every one. I’ve got four different video adapters in my travel bag. On my last trip, I brought the charging cable for my iPad…which doesn’t work with my iPhone, so my phone was dead on the second day. I can’t even use the power brick from my wife’s laptop on mine, and vice versa. So I’m always on the lookout for relatively cheap, non-Apple adapters of various sorts.

I like this one, from Nomad. It fits on my keychain! It’s tiny! I’ll have a connector for my iPad everywhere I go! Also, they sent it to me free on trial, so even better.

Of course, now watch: the next time I get a new laptop, it’ll have even more different cables. What I’m going to need is the Swiss Army Knife of cable adapters.

Comments

  1. mastmaker says

    I know you must be tired of this by now, PZ, but here it is again: switch to android.

    My phone, my HP touchpad (loaded with android), my Windows (not RT) tablet all use micro-USB, as do countless other (non-Apple i.e.) devices. A USB charger with 2A output can power just about any android device (barring B&N Nook which needs a special cable….boooooo) there is.

  2. Callinectes says

    I think they passed a law in the UK that basically says “standardise your shit now, fuckers”

    Or maybe they just meant to pass it.

  3. says

    AFAIK, it’s not a law yet, but the EU is pushing for de facto standard microUSB to become a standard for recharging phones. And it’s fine for every other manufacturer, but Apple wants to do things the hard way.

  4. krubozumo says

    Open source.

    Computing is rapidly becoming much like conversing. We should all be able to talk to each other.

  5. says

    That’s Apple for ya (although not only them) – not content to model-spam, they also necessitate followup purchases of peripherals and accessories. Although, in my experience, what they really do when they change connectors around is enable people in mall kiosks, tech shops and on ebay to make a decent living selling ridiculously cheap non-Apple gubbinry. Why? Because, FFS, who’s going to spend $25 on a 3-metre Apple™ cable for an iPwn when that guy who sells phone covers and knockoff Ray-Bans in the booth next to the juice bar will sell you the same thing for a fiver?

  6. HidariMak says

    Just to add to mastmaker’s point, hasn’t Apple decided to start checking for third party adapters as of one of the earlier revisions to iOS 7? Unless Apple dumped this “feature” since then, if the manufacturer of any of your specific cables/adapters hasn’t given their official share of profits to Apple, you only get a message on screen telling you to buy another adapter to charge/sync your Apple device.

  7. says

    To be fair on Apple, they had the same connector for the iPod, iPhone and iPad for nine years before switching over because the devices finally got too thin for the socket.

  8. saganite says

    That’s of course by design: They want you to buy as many of their peripherals as possible. It’s also why Apple is so anal about third-party producers. If something on or connected to my PC breaks, I can buy a replacement part from any company I want, pretty much. I remember when my Apple iPod’s battery died. Never again. Haven’t bought an Apple-product since.

  9. madtom1999 says

    Avoid Apple. I can connect to four phones, my daughters tablet and several cameras using a standard microusb connector – came free with all the above devices.
    Apple are good at marketing – I love getting apple product users to tell me what is so special about their devices.
    It generally works out to be ignorance of other products and computing/electronics in general.
    By the end of the year at least one company is hoping to produce a $25 smartphone. Can you get an apple lead for that price.

  10. says

    There’s a new EU directive that mandates micro-USB as the charging and data interface for anything that’s portable, has a cellular connection, and can be plugged into a computer. The directive allows manufacturers to ship an adaptor instead, albeit as a clause that pretty much only exists to enable Apple to continue selling non-compliant devices. It’ll have to be passed into law by the member nations to have any effect but it has been taken for granted that this would happen since the original Memorandum of Understanding about the issue a few years ago.

    On the upside it mandates a common specification for the charger itself that might solve the problem of how a device asks for extra current from the charger, which would at least constitute progress.

  11. jdmuys says

    Wow! so much hate!

    I keep buying Apple stuff for me and my whole family (and recommend Apple to friends), because they mostly just work. My 70+ yo parents are happy with them, and don’t bother me for viruses or support.

    As an IT professional, I even service my Windows clients with Apple hardware.

    Yes Apple devices are a bit annoying at times, but they still give me *pleasure* to use (even for work), because of the incredible attention to details that is everywhere to be seen (provided you care).
    Some of it is hardware, but most of it is software. Apple platform is so much nicer (IMO) than the rest, that coping with a quirk here and there is a small price to pay.

    Even the Apple Lightning connector is better than USB connectors, because it is symmetrical. You don’t have to pay attention to the way you plug it in. You don’t care? That’s my point: you don’t care about the details. I do care, because this is part of the experience. You can dismiss each of them as insignificant. And they are. But they add up.

    Regarding the EU regulation, I believe is concerns power, not data. It basically says that the device must be able to use a USB power brick (If I understand correctly).

    Finally, 99.8% of mobile malware is on Android. Thanks, but no thanks.

  12. knowknot says

    Oh seven hells. Avoiding the “you can’t possibly have a reason for liking Apple products because I don’t get the point” thing… (but not quite)
    |
    Production of proprietary connectors should be a criminal offense. (Of course since I’m of the “you can’t possibly have a reason for liking Android-Windows-businessy-fiddly-philistine-interface-and-activity products because I don’t get the point” ilk I have a blind spot for Apple here. Oops.)
    |
    But anyway, (the majority of) proprietary connectors are blatant waste, bad design, and feet in the door for incremental purchase because the cat, because lost or misplaced under 72 others, because little invisible wires done broke, etc…

  13. davidjanes says

    Well considering the number of devices I have had to send in for service due to busted MicroUSB ports compared to the number with Lightning ports I have had to send in (I am in IT) I would state that it is actually the EU that is “getting it wrong” unless their entire plan is to guarantee full employment in repair centers. That connector stinks on ice and is fragile as hell.

  14. says

    That’s a good point. I have a rather expensive video camera in my lab that I now consider a total lemon, and really regret buying, because it keeps dying. The reason? Goddamn sloppy micro USB connector. Right now it’s dead, and the summer research season will be on me soon, and I don’t have $5000 to replace it, and don’t know what I’m going to do.

    It’s a non-Apple device, by the way.

    Also, I remember when USB was considered weird and non-standard. You’re supposed to have serial and parallel ports, and nothing else, and why are the manufacturers making us buy this weird new connector that doesn’t even work with any of my printers>

  15. carlie says

    Just to add to mastmaker’s point, hasn’t Apple decided to start checking for third party adapters as of one of the earlier revisions to iOS 7?

    I think that at least started to happen earlier – I have a 3gen ipod (that will NOT update past iOS 5), and it gets fussy around third-party chargers.

  16. Johnny Vector says

    To return temporarily to the subject of the post… Ugh. If I put that thing, with those unprotected contacts, in my pocket with my other keys, pocketknife, and collapsible pen, it would last maybe a month. Assuming it doesn’t snap clean in half at some point when I sit down. I hope they made it out of polycarbonate or a rubberized material, in which case the snapping in half wouldn’t be a problem. But I didn’t see anything about that on their abomination of a website.

    I’ll pass.

  17. shoeguy says

    Apple seems to outlived and out-designed most of the haters, but there is a hardcore of unreconstructed Anti-Apple folk hanging on out there. I really haven’t seen Apple product change hardware unless it was necessary to make their designs work. If some enterprising engineer wants to make her mark on the hardware world, design a power brick that turns itself off completely when it is not being used to charge. I don’t know how many megawatts are burned up daily keeping those little plastic bricks warm. I have at least seven of those little toasters doing nothing but give the cat something warm, abet lumpy, to sleep on. I’m old enough to have been a user when it was Mac versus DOS and Microsoft was kicking their ass even though command line interface sucked big time.

  18. methuseus says

    Apple devices since 2nd or 3rd generation have always been finicky about third party chargers. If you plug the iPod/iPad/iPhone into a non-approved USB port on a non-Apple laptop or other charging device, they will not charge. I’ve had multiple Windows machines that would not charge Apple products, and even gave me a message that it was an unapproved device.

    I personally don’t like Apple devices all that much. To be fair I haven’t used a laptop or desktop from them since around the first iteration of OS X. I just prefer how other devices operate. Yes, having an open platform is nice. No, being restricted in how I can do things is not nice. I don’t understand the whole idea of not being able to use a device without iTunes. I also think Apple products are often overpriced for what you get. Yes, they are sturdy, but so are other devices by other manufacturers that are less expensive. I like that almost all my devices (except the iPad from work) can use the same cable to charge and transfer.

    However, I don’t poo-poo on people that like Apple products. I will explain why I like my products and don’t like Apple’s, but don’t judge them for it.

  19. mastmaker says

    @davidjones and PZ,

    I may be the odd one out, but I never had a micro-USB connector or cable fail on me.

    Here are things I have against Apple & Microsoft phones:
    - They don’t allow other apps to access the phone dialer, so things like Google Voice or CSIPSimple, which are transparently integrated into the phone (as in install it and forget it) are not possible.
    - Windows phone doesn’t allow other apps to access MP3 files (and a whole host of other file types) in the internal storage or sdcard. So, all the podcast/audiobook players on Windows phone will have to bring in their own podcast/audiobook files. I don’t how it is on Apple, since I refuse to use their products on principle (walled gardens and stuff).

    I only wish the smartphone world was as open as DOS/Windows world was up to XP/Win7 days. Only Android seems to be almost there while Apple and Microsoft are doing their damnedest to veer away from openness.

  20. methuseus says

    Oh, and as for the Mini and Micro USB ports, I’ve never had an issue with either, either. same as mastmaker @24

  21. mastmaker says

    Here’s the problem with all Apple products (and current Nokia Windows phones): One company controls both the hardware and software. That gives them opportunity to close the entire device shut and twice the chance to screw their customers/developers/vendors over. They can go: Hey, I am gonna shut out all of Acme Corporation’s aftermarket attachments because I had a fight with their new CEO when we were in kindergarten!

    Microsoft succeeded for over two decades mainly because they DID NOT control the hardware, so they had to make sure they run on a wide range of hardware and that kept everybody happy. Also their bending over backwards(!) to be backward compatible. Their days are now numbered, unless their new guy is some miracle worker.

  22. Holms says

    @15 (but also applicable to many Apple users)

    I keep buying Apple stuff for me and my whole family (and recommend Apple to friends), because they mostly just work. My 70+ yo parents are happy with them, and don’t bother me for viruses or support.

    I usually don’t care which system a person uses, but I can’t help but facepalm when someone starts regurgitating marketing slogans in place of cogent argument / criticism. “It just works” is probably the most irritating; you know what else ‘just works’? Every other product. Except of course when it doesn’t, which you kind of acknowledge but brush right off by saying they mostly just work.

    Unless you have some kind of customer support statistics?

    Yes Apple devices are a bit annoying at times, but they still give me *pleasure* to use (even for work), because of the incredible attention to details that is everywhere to be seen (provided you care).
    Some of it is hardware, but most of it is software. Apple platform is so much nicer (IMO) than the rest, that coping with a quirk here and there is a small price to pay.

    You don’t have to pay attention to the way you plug it in. You don’t care? That’s my point: you don’t care about the details.

    To me, this just seems to be a deliberate example of highly selective criticism. Okay, sure, Apple designers pay attention to even the tiniest detail, like symmetrical connections – provided it’s something you give a shit about – oh except for those other things like proprietary cables and charger exclusivity, which you dismiss as ‘the price you pay’ for the things that aren’t annoying. So, sure, you’re the one that cares about the details… except the ones you don’t.

  23. says

    I have gone through FIVE micro USB cables on this camera — the fit is so sloppy, that I can sometimes get it working again by picking up a new cable. It’s gone beyond that now: new cables don’t help, status lights don’t come on, it’s drawing no power. The company isn’t calling me back, either — I’m small potatoes, not someone with a bunch of their high end models — so it’s more than just the crummy USB interface. So I’m not happy.

    If any of you have $5K you want to give me, I’ve been eyeing some of the Jenoptik cameras.

  24. says

    you know what else ‘just works’? Every other product.

    Nope. I’ve got both Mac & PC in my lab. The Mac is an order of magnitude more reliable than the PC. I used to manage a whole student imaging lab, with about a dozen computers of each kind, and there too it was true, the macs “just worked” and the PCs would occasionally freak out and die.

    Really, you can’t simultaneously claim that PCs are more open and flexible for customization, as many do, and also claim that they aren’t made more fragile by that. My bane was always the clever student who had some knowledge of the internal workings of the PC and could not resist just tweaking one little thing.

  25. tacotaco says

    I used to work in the AV department at my school. Thanks to speakers coming in with their Apple laptops and expecting it to “just work” we had to keep adapters for Mini VGA, DVI, Mini DVI, Micro DVI, Mini Displayport, and Thunderbolt.

    I have a rather expensive video camera in my lab that I now consider a total lemon, and really regret buying, because it keeps dying. The reason? Goddamn sloppy micro USB connector. Right now it’s dead, and the summer research season will be on me soon, and I don’t have $5000 to replace it, and don’t know what I’m going to do.

    Why not simply replace the connector?

  26. says

    Apple seems to outlived and out-designed most of the haters, but there is a hardcore of unreconstructed Anti-Apple folk hanging on out there. I really haven’t seen Apple product change hardware unless it was necessary to make their designs work.

    Arg, tacotaco just beat me to it, but Apple has a long history of changing connectors on their devices, this is really nothing new. I doubt this was done because the changes were necessary.

  27. Holms says

    My bane was always the clever student who had some knowledge of the internal workings of the PC and could not resist just tweaking one little thing.

    So, the PC would have gotten away with it, if not for those meddling kids?

  28. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    I keep buying Apple stuff for me and my whole family [...] My 70+ yo parents are happy

    Just make sure you know their Apple IDs and passwords. ;-)

    Apple security rules leave inherited iPad useless, say sons

    “We’ve provided the death certificate, will and solicitor’s letter but it wasn’t enough [for Apple]. They’ve now asked for a court order to prove that mum was the owner of the iPad and the iTunes account.

    “It’s going to have to go through our solicitor and he charges £200 an hour so it’s a bit of a false economy. [...]

    “I thought we might use it as a shiny placemat.”

  29. jste says

    So, the PC would have gotten away with it, if not for those meddling kids?

    Pretty much. A PC of comparable manufacturing quality (And that’s the trick – most PCs are built on the cheap. Macs aren’t, or at least, not to the same level of cheap) to a Mac is just as reliable as that Mac and “Just Works” as well as that mac, provided you don’t let tinkerers near it, and the user keeps their antivirus up-to-date.

    But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Tinkerers can break macs too. It’s harder, but still not outside the realms of inquisitive students with a little computer knowledge. I may or may not be speaking from experience, having possibly been one of those inquisitive students.

  30. says

    @23, methuseus:

    Apple devices since 2nd or 3rd generation have always been finicky about third party chargers. If you plug the iPod/iPad/iPhone into a non-approved USB port on a non-Apple laptop or other charging device, they will not charge. I’ve had multiple Windows machines that would not charge Apple products, and even gave me a message that it was an unapproved device.

    Since the 2nd or 3rd generation, Apple devices have been capable of using more current than a standard USB connector will generate (and some of them, like the iPad basically require it). This is hardly surprising, because the USB standard was never, ever intended as a means of recharging batteries, or even drive higher-power-use devices. (Lots of USB stuff which is higher-power will advertise that it requires no power supply — but then come with a special cable to use two USB jacks to draw power, which is cheating.) The actual Apple cables/adaptors (and the USB jacks in more recent Macs) permit more power to be sent through the cable if the circumstances are right. Ordinary USB jacks don’t — and if the USB jack doesn’t know about the power requirements of the device, then you would hope that Apple would be very careful about it, no?

    (There’s also the fact that Apple got sued a while back because some dunce plugged in a bottom-of-the-barrel 3rd-party charger from China, and the whole thing blew up because the charger had cheap parts which failed and caused a short. I think trying to discourage 3rd-party stuff, given that they can be sued for failures which aren’t even their fault, is entirely understandable.)

    31, tacotaco:

    I used to work in the AV department at my school. Thanks to speakers coming in with their Apple laptops and expecting it to “just work” we had to keep adapters for Mini VGA, DVI, Mini DVI, Micro DVI, Mini Displayport, and Thunderbolt.

    You were hiring speakers who brought in a laptop expecting it to plug into your projector, but didn’t tell them what kind of connection they had to expect? What else, you didn’t tell them which room they were supposed to present in and complained when they asked for directions?

    (Also: half of the connectors you mentioned are external standards which Apple adopted, so I don’t think you can really complain about Apple alone, there. And you can plug a Mini Displayport plug directly into Thunderbolt ports, and it will work as a display connection, so you really don’t need another adaptor if you already have Mini Displayport.)

    32, Travis:

    Arg, tacotaco just beat me to it, but Apple has a long history of changing connectors on their devices, this is really nothing new. I doubt this was done because the changes were necessary.

    Actually, except for video (which has been messy, but less so on the desktops than the laptops, where Apple has tried too hard to avoid large connectors) Apple has tended to keep the same connectors for a long time, and change them in groups. From about 1987 to about 1999, all Macs had the same set of connectors in some collection (ADB for mouse/keyboard/joystick/whatever, Mini-DIN-8 serial ports, DB-25 SCSI, and Ethernet for networking on later models, usually RJ45 once that became the de facto standard). From about 1999 to about 2008, nearly all Macs had the same set of connectors in some collection (USB 1 or 2 for mouse/keyboard/joystick/whatever, FireWire for high-speed storage*, and RJ45 Ethernet for networking). They were even the first manufacturer to actually embrace USB, and kept it from failing in the marketplace. Now they’ve switched to a new and simpler grouping (USB 3, Thunderbolt — and since you can adapt Thunderbolt to just about anything, that’s all they need; it even does away with the need for the computer to have slots, at long last**). It’s not really all that difficult to keep track of, and at every switch there have been adaptors for old peripherals — ADB-to-USB, Mini-DIN-8-to-USB, SCSI-to-FireWire, etc. Considering that the computers tend to be used for 3 to 5 years, that’s not really all that bad.

    *In practice, USB 2 does not perform as well as FireWire for storage; it gets a maximum effective throughput of around 250 Mb/sec, where FireWire 400 — the lowest speed Macs have used — does 400 Mb/sec automatically, and the later FireWire iterations bumped that up to 800. (Technically, the FireWire standard can do even higher speeds, but by the time that was practical, Apple and Intel were already working on Thunderbolt and FireWire got abandoned. Which is a pity, but the best technology doesn’t always win.)

    **Since Windows/Linux users seem generally not to have paid any attention to Thunderbolt, even though it’s an Intel thing which will probably eventually be as ubiquitous as USB: in addition to being easily adaptable to USB 3, FireWire, DVI, HDMI, Ethernet, and all kinds of other things, it can act as an extension of the system bus. You can actually buy an external chassis to hold expansion cards, and plug it in to your computer, and the cards will be as fast as if they were installed inside the computer. It’s a pretty incredible technology.

    As for the iPod, the original one used FireWire only, then there was the 30-pin connector from 2003 to 2012, and now there’s Lightning. You can get adaptors between the two if you have old add-on devices. (And speaking as someone who has owned both? The Lightning connector is vastly better. Less fragile, less likely to make the cable fray near the head if the cable is in a pocket or bag, and less fumbly to plug in when it’s a cable because of the reversibility. That’s actually such a big deal that Intel has announced a reversible USB connector. I have no doubt that in 5 years, you anti-Apple people will have forgotten that Apple, as with USB itself, led the way on that.)

    @26, mastmaker

    Here’s the problem with all Apple products (and current Nokia Windows phones): One company controls both the hardware and software. That gives them opportunity to close the entire device shut and twice the chance to screw their customers/developers/vendors over. They can go: Hey, I am gonna shut out all of Acme Corporation’s aftermarket attachments because I had a fight with their new CEO when we were in kindergarten!

    Yeah, because that has happened so often. Care to give an example? The only CEO hissyfit I can remember from Apple was when Jobs dropped ATI as a video card manufacturer because the CEO bragged about how Apple was going to use their cards in an upcoming Mac Pro — which is the type of Mac which could be opened and upgraded — before the hardware had been made public. Since Apple has always kept their upcoming hardware under wraps, that was kind of a big deal (and a violation of contract, as well).

    Microsoft succeeded for over two decades mainly because they DID NOT control the hardware, so they had to make sure they run on a wide range of hardware and that kept everybody happy. Also their bending over backwards(!) to be backward compatible. Their days are now numbered, unless their new guy is some miracle worker.

    Microsoft didn’t make their OS run on a wide variety of hardware, they made it run on Intel’s 286 CPU and motherboard. A bunch of third-party manufacturers reverse-engineered that combination, and when Intel asked Microsoft for help defending their patents and hard design work, Microsoft grinned and said, in effect, “thanks for giving us a leg up, chums, but showing gratitude is for chumps”. Much as Microsoft did to IBM, actually, before jumping ship to Intel.

    As for “backwards compatibility”, I suppose that deliberately preserving bugs to keep your own old software from crashing because it was poorly-written technically qualifies. (As revealed when the source code leaked a few years back, there are specific edge cases put in because their software expects bad replies from the OS.) On the other hand, that same attitude kept us with Internet Explorer 6 for about a decade, so I don’t see that it’s a particular virtue.

    @34, cm’s changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    Apple security rules leave inherited iPad useless, say sons

    A misleading headline. What they actually mean is “we can’t get into the inherited iPad to use the apps without the password, and Apple won’t help us”. Which means Apple is doing security right, incidentally. But “useless”? You can always erase the thing and start over. It’s two years old and still has a decent resale value.

    @35, jste

    A PC of comparable manufacturing quality (And that’s the trick – most PCs are built on the cheap. Macs aren’t, or at least, not to the same level of cheap) to a Mac is just as reliable as that Mac and “Just Works” as well as that mac, provided you don’t let tinkerers near it, and the user keeps their antivirus up-to-date.

    Also, of course, Macs typically include a lot of stuff which costs extra on PCs. (Macs had built-in sound, built-in wired networking, built-in wireless networking, built-in high-speed storage connections, and built-in external video connectors at times when PCs usually had to have all those added as cards.)

    And anti-virus? The only platform right now where you can get malware on your machine without actively assisting in the infection by entering a password is Windows. Both Linux and Mac OS X have no vulnerabilities “in the wild” which can simply attack your machine without your knowledge, while Windows does.

    (And come to think of it, there’s a similar situation for malware on phones: Android is the only platform with serious malware “in the wild”. The Linux crowd always used to complain about Windows for having so much malware; they don’t seem to talk about this problem on Android very much.)

  31. David Marjanović says

    Pretty much. A PC of comparable manufacturing quality (And that’s the trick – most PCs are built on the cheap. Macs aren’t, or at least, not to the same level of cheap) to a Mac is just as reliable as that Mac and “Just Works” as well as that mac [...]

    I confirm this from experience.

  32. tacotaco says

    You were hiring speakers who brought in a laptop expecting it to plug into your projector, but didn’t tell them what kind of connection they had to expect?

    More often they were hiring us, but yes, we always communicated to them the available video inputs and around half the Mac users would still show up without an appropriate adapter and then act outraged that our video switchers didn’t accept whatever port Apple happened to be using that year. We finally gave up and invested a small fortune in adapters.

    In later years some PC notebooks started showing up with HDMI ports, which none of our large lecture halls supported, but it was never an issue since the presenters were always responsible enough to bring their own adapters. In my four years working there not once did a PC user show up with anything other than a standard VGA port without bringing an adapter.