Apple Dongles A Go-Go

Apple's newest offerings, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, are really nice phones. Its latest computer, the MacBook, is also a very good piece of hardware. Unfortunately, they both have an issue: ports. The iPhones rely on Lightning for wired connectivity, and the MacBook leans on USB-C. Incoming MacBook Pros are believed to depend on USB-C, too. While it may not have meant to, Apple has created a dongle problem for users, and it's getting out of hand.

The iPhone

Much (maybe too much) was made of the iPhone moving away from the 3.5mm audio jack. I don't rely on wired audio, so it wasn't devastating to me, but many users do. More to the point, there are a good swath of iPhone owners who like to charge and listen to music at the same time.

If you happen to fall into one or both of those camps, dongles are your only way out; and it gets messy if you are. There are now dongles with an audio jack for the iPhone 7, and even a case that adds it back to the mix (which is basically just a big dongle anyway). You can also get a Lightning splitter in case you don't really mind Lightning earbuds — but still want to listen and charge your phone.

We should also point out this isn't out of left field. Apple included an audio-jack-to-Lightning converter with every iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. It knew we'd not be pleased with Lighting-only connectivity.

MacBook’s head start meant nothing

I've had my MacBook since the beginning, and I'll be really honest: I love it. It's a wonderful computer that does everything I want when I'm on the go – but if I want to hook it up to a few monitors or manage an external storage drive, things get tricky. There are hubs, but many are hit-and-miss. The lone standout is Moshi's newest hub, which doesn't need firmware updates or any sort of massaging; it really does just work.

However most users will opt for dongles, and that's where it gets tricky. If you have a singular need, the choices aren't confusing; Does that external drive use the tried and true USB connection? Get a simple converter! But our old friend the battery needs a charge, and we're left ejecting drives and taking breaks and — it's exhausting. Too much thinking about how to do things instead of just doing them.

Though a hub can solve many needs, most hubs don't have an ethernet port — something I need when I'm at tech events, which oddly have terrible WiFi. The same can be said for hotels. While that was a problem with my MacBook Pro, carrying one dongle rather than three or more (hi, SD Card reader!) was less obtuse

Added cost

Spending $700 on a phone and $1,200 (or more!) on a computer is nothing to take lightly, which makes our dongled existence even more bothersome.

For the Macbook — depending on your needs — bank on an additional $100 or so. That's for an ethernet connector and a hub; bank on another $70-100 if you have uncommon needs like a VGA input or SD Card reader. iPhone is a bit less involved, but still bothersome. The audio dongle is free with an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, but that splitter is another $40 or so.

Another issue is chaining. Apple sells an iPhone/iPad dongle that has both Lightning and USB inlets. I see the value in pass-through Lightning connectivity, but there's a good chance whatever you're linking via USB is a go-between for another peripheral. It's a spiderweb of silliness for power users.

The worst part? This is our new reality. Even if (when, hopefully) Apple takes charge and makes some all-in-one hubs for our phones and computers, it's still something extra to carry with us.

The positive takeaway is that if a dongle stops working, it's a much cheaper fix than taking your computer in for repairs. Also, you get a bit more flexibility with dongles; if I know I'll only need an ethernet connection on a trip, I don't need to take the rest of my add-ons with me.

Even if monitors and peripherals jump on the USB-C bandwagon in a hurry, there will still be ethernet and SD Cards. Lightning will take time to catch on, too, leaving wired headphone users holding onto their dongles for dear life. This is our new reality.