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Mea Culpatino as Apple brings back the ports on the new MacBook Pros


This week we saw a rare happening at an Apple launch. Rare swallowing of pride and a tacit admission that earlier decisions had been wrong. Who would have thought it?

There, there. It wasn't so hard after all. Apple goes back to the past with its full-house of ports
There, there. It wasn’t so hard after all. Apple goes back to the past with its full-house of ports

Apple has always enjoyed something of a reputation as a slayer of ports and tired peripherals such as floppy discs and DVD drivers. Every new MacBook, as it slimmed, lost ports and, some would say, practicality. Apple has been used to calling the shots and taking the lead in port assassination, all to the common good, of course.

Eating humble Apple pie

The last Apple computer to use the much-lamented MagSafe power port was the MacBook Air of 2017. USB-C was the future, having appeared as a sole means of power and communication in the MacBooks and MacBook Pros the previous year.

Apple, as always, knew best. Along with the very practical MagSafe (designed to stop fixed wires from pulling your portable off the desk) went the SD card reader. Wails and gnashing of teeth could be heard from photographers the world over.

Yet this week a trio of tired and abused ports made a triumphant comeback with the launch of the new 14 and 16-in MacBook Pros. Photographers can rejoice in the reappearance of an SDXC card slot and all Mac users will welcome back some old favourites. MagSafe is back, this time as MagSafe 3, and the trusty HDMI port has also found absolution. There’s even an old-fashioned 3.5 mm headphone jack for all those dinosaurs who haven’t wholly adopted USB-C.

Memento mori

It’s a full house, including three ThunderBolt 4 (USB-C) ports, to make the 2021 MacBook Pro one of the most connectable Apple computers of the past five years. How are the mighty fallen? Who would have thought Apple could admit in such a public fashion that the decision to move entirely to USB-C was not in the best interests of consumers?.

From a design point of view, as an exercise in minimalism, the USB-C-only approach had its merits. In some respect, I liked the simpler technique, with just one cable connecting the laptop to a desktop hub full of all those ports and slots we were missing. But it looks like common sense has triumphed over the purity of concept.

My suggestion to Apple is to employ a Whisperer to stand on the triumphal chariot and murmur “memento mori” into the chief designer’s ear.

But none of this whimsy detracts from the fact that Apple has triumphed with the new MacBook Pros. By almost any benchmark, these are the best laptops Apple has ever produced. And the enhanced M1 processors leave Intel tramping along in the dust.

The M1 Pro takes everything about the M1 and nearly doubles it all. The high-performance CPU cores are doubled from four to eight (interestingly, the high-efficiency cores have been reduced from four to two). The GPU cores have been doubled from eight to 16. The memory bus width has been doubled from 128-bit to 256-bit, giving it double the memory bandwidth (Apple switched to LPDDR5, too). Instead of 8GB or 16GB options, memory has doubled to 16GB or 32GB.

— Jason Cross, Macworld.com

For anyone who demands on-the-go processing power and convenience, and that includes many professional photographers, either the 14in or 16in Pro will make any road warrior happy.


  1. Kind of annoyed now that I purchased a new Macbook Pro earlier this year. I would have waited had I known that the ports were coming back, it was one of the main reasons I waited so long to change from my 2013 Macbook.

    • Yes, I agree, it is always annoying when models change just after you’ve bought something. It can even happen with cars unless you spend all your spare time poring over specialist magazines and websites. I wasn’t surprised by the reappearance of ports because this had been rumoured for a long time. But what did surprise me was the early release of these new models. Everything I’d read pointed to a 2022 launch. I bought a basic MacBook Air just three weeks ago. Had I realised the new 14in MacBook would be launched this month, I might well have considered it as an alternative, if only for the ports. However, I’d have had to pay at least £1,000 more and I would have had a bit more bulk and weight (admittedly just 300g more) to carry around. In a way, though, I am glad I wasn’t faced with the choice and the temptation to spend more money. The little MacBook Air is fine for me and it cost less than an equivalent iPad. I’ve spent £25 on a plug-in hub that attaches firmly to the two UBS-C ports and gives me expansion in the form of an SD slot, USB-C and USB-A, so it should keep me happy for a year or so…

      • That’s very true regarding choice and temptation and I often fall into that trap! I bought a hub too that has all the necessary slots so it hasn’t been a major hardship really. Though the HDMI connection definitely isn’t as solid as it would be if built in. I had my old MacBook a very long time though and hope this one will last just as long…..unless I get sick of using a hub…

        • One positive of using a hub is that I can accommodate all the cables and peripherals and needs just one action in plugging it in to the computer. With ports built in to the computer you have several cables to plug in when returning to the desk. It’s horses for courses, I suppose. The most convenient, thought, is a large powered hub with just one USB-C cable to plug in to the computer. That’s the neatest solution but it isn’t portable.

  2. This is one of the many annoying things about Apple. It changes products to suit itself and not its customers. There are other examples of this. Even though I use its products, the arrogant attitude of the company makes it very difficult to like. The worst of all is in relation to software. You can be happily using a feature which works one day and then the next day it is completely changed without notice and I am completely lost. Apple is truly a company that is very difficult to like.


    • Yes and the fact that you will buy a product and then it will be out of date in a matter of months! That’s what has always bothered me. But in saying that using a MacBook is a joy in comparison to using a windows laptop! I could never go back!

      • My thoughts exactly. During my working life I had to use Windows. But as soon as I could, I moved over to the Mac I certainly it couldn’t contemplate going back to Windows. This blog started as a Mac site, hence the domain name which I am rather stuck with despite the transition to photography. I don’t suppose it matters, though.

      • Hi Lisa
        I have to say I think that Apple are least guilty of bringing out replacements in a few months – the 13″ M1 MBP isn’t going anywhere and will remain on sale as the starter machine. (and a cracking machine it is as well . . and that battery life!)

        One of the things I do like about Apple is that they don’t keep changing designs every 10 minutes, and their machines don’t advertise how old they are! (although in this case you could argue that it’s taken 6 years to put back the ports people wanted!

        • “and their machines don’t advertise how old they are!”

          Agree on this, Jono. And isn’t this what Leica thought they were doing by going from the M9 to the M. An M is an M is an M, surely no one will notice we’ve produced another model?. But then came the M10, which should have been the M11, and now we should be looking forward to the M12 (all these motorways…).

  3. I suppose when you think about it, Since Steve Jobs and the beginning, Apple has never ever been a company that wanted to follow the crowd and you have to take risks and try something “different” to innovate.So I guess we can’t really expect them to have industry “standard” features although we might want them. I remember not being too happy when they took away the DVD player from the iMacs since I’d built up a huge collection but it was inevitable. On the other hand, taking away the SD card slot when just about every camera uses SD cards for storage never made any sense, so along with the MagSafe, I’m happy to see these back and I wondered if I might need to upgrade having bought an M! MacBook Air. But…looking at the specs..The new MacBook Pro is heavier ( not something I want in a portable) doesn’t appear to have longer battery life, is a more boxy design and a heck of a lot more expensive. Think I’m happy to keep using the Air for now, just like Mike. Unless there is a visible difference in the screen quality. Not entirely sure that that SD card slot can handle the newer faster cards either. Anyone know?

    • I read an interesting article yesterday suggesting that Johnny Ive had been responsible for the design-over-function quest. Now he has gone, the company is giving more consideration to what people want rather than what is dictated by design.

  4. I use my 2018 MBA mainly for travel. I would have been interested in replacing it with a new 14in MBP but the price tag of $2K is simply too expensive. I would only make sense for me if it replaced my iMac and my MBA but I am not convinced yet that I want to give up my iMac…

    • True. This is a dilemma. I know many people (including Jono Slack) are firm believers in having just one do-all computer but this does involve compromises. These days, with online data storage and synchronised desk tops, running two machines in synch is a painless procedure. So I don’t worry too much about that aspect. It’s more about how much storage/performance I need in a road computer.

      Since I haven’t done much travelling recently, I’m nit entirely sure if the Air will be ideal. But I am impressed by the way I’ve been able to minimise storage. Dropbox, unlike iCloud, has a very robust selective synch procedure which has enabled me to clear almost all Dropbox folders from the Air. Yet they are still there and searchable, ready for instant download when required.

      • If you are an IT guy, and if you use your personal laptop also for technical work, then it probably makes all the sense in the world, otherwise I am not so sure, a 14in MPB or an iPad would enable me to edit on the go but I would probably be missing the bigger screen, and although useful editing on the go is probably not essential to me. If my iMac is up for replacement I might reconsider.

        • The Air feels so much like my iPad Pro with the floating keyboard that I keep trying to move things around on the screen with my finger. I’ll need to keep cleaning it.

        • Hah!
          Go for it – ditch the iMac, get a decent monitor with a USB hub for home and get a powerful laptop.
          This is even more wonderful with the M processors which have such incredible battery life . . . . . Worth mentioning that I don’t usually bother to plug mine in to the mains when I go to the office – last week 8 hours with zoom meetings, some coding in windows and general worky stuff, at the end of the day I still had 65% of the battery power left (no lightroom though)
          all the best

          • As far as battery life is concerned, my new “basic” MacBook Air takes some beating. I haven’t checked the figures, but the 14in MBP could be even better. I think you’ve convinced me, though, and sometime next year I will probably go for the 14in MBP to the same spec as you are contemplating. That said, as a retired old bugger I don’t have three desks to play with and my computing requirements are very modest compared with yours.

    • Apple has confirmed the specification of the new MacBook Pro SD card slot, and there’s reasonably good news for videographers.

      Apple says that the slot supports UHS-II transfers, though not UHS-III or SD Express.

  5. I love my Air, and had never looked at the port thing as an issue, as I bought a third party hub which is minimalist in looks, sits well in the Airs pouch, and gives me enough old fashioned ports to satisfy the most ardent user. It even has a decent SD slot.

    I wouldn’t knock Apple for adding ports back in though, that shows they are for once listening to their users who prefer the functionality built in.

    This means we now have choices, and that is a good thing.

    • Yes, I also bought a hub and it is unobtrusive and very secure. The fact that they use twin plugs to match the two sockets on the left-hand side of the MacBook Air adds the sort of stability that you could never get with a single connector. I also have a port dongle, on a very short wire, that I used with my old MacBook Air. But it is much more convenient to have a plug=in hub.

  6. All you Hubbers!
    I generally work in 3 different places with 3 different desks . . . . I have a good monitor in each place which has a USB hub built in (The Benq one even has an SD card slot, but you can’t get at it without turning the screen upside down! There is also an Apple BT keyboard and trackpad at each station. (I also have a desktop backup drive at each location).

    So that means with my single laptop (currently a fully loaded M1 13″ MBP) I can go from one place to another without even thinking of syncing data or any such complication. The 2TB SSD is big enough to keep 2 years images locally, the rest is on external 2.1/2″ SSDs which normally live in the kitchen.

    But the point is that I always have a powerful computer with my complete lightroom library with me (and when I say complete it has upwards of 150,000 images in the one catalogue).

    I don’t need / want a desktop, it would just cause muddle, with the USB monitor hubs I quickly learned to live with a couple of USB-C ports on the laptop and put up with carrying round an SD card reader – not too much of a hardship – especially as it fits in the iPad pro as well.

    But the joy of it all is Lightroom and the new Apple M processors – on a recent trip back from Crete I spent 2 hours in the airport and 4 hours on the flight editing images and had 45% battery life left – it’s predecessor, a fully loaded 2019 16″ Intel MBP lasted for less than an hour processing Lightroom images (and it was slower).

    I’m going for the 14″, but not maxed out this time – 2TB 10 core M1Pro and 16Gb ram. I’ll be very pleased to see Magsafe again and the other ports will be useful – I’ve been seduced by the power!

    But I’m really convinced about the 1 machine approach, and I’m not a casual user – and everyone else in the business runs on 1 machine – there are a couple of spares around so if one goes down or gets nicked then there’s always a decent spare.

    I welcome these new machines – seems to me that Apple have their Mojo back.

    all the best

    So actually I’m not very much fussed by

    • Totally agree Jonathan, Apple certainly do have their Mojo back. I am SO happy to see that SD card slot make a re-appearance. The one-machine approach with a monitor is sound thinking and the power of the new MacBooks makes it all possible. I’m getting along fine with my SL2s 24MP files and an M1 air at the moment but I see a MacBook Pro in my future. There is an argument if you are using a MacBook Pro for having a second synched machine ( or an M1 Air if price is a consideration) as a backup. If one goes down, you switch to the other without skipping a beat. Remember, you can’t use a backup drive as a computer if your current MacBook has to go in for servicing or a battery change ). It’s all good. Lots of choices.

      • As an afterthought, (I’m also an OB but very not retired at least for another 2 years) I hope I live to see the day when camera batteries have at least half the long-lasting power that Apple has managed to achieve in it’s laptops! Yes, I know you can carry spares but…


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