6 things to know about the USB-C port in the new MacBook

12 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 things the MacBook needs in the next generation.

Apple is challenging laptop users to adapt to fewer ports with the bold design of its new 12-inch MacBook, which has just one USB-C port using the USB 3.1 standard, as well as a regular headphone jack. Now that you’ve seen Apple’s new MacBook from all sides and read all the commentary, are you ready to hear the story of how it was first presented to Apple CEO Tim Cook?

Perhaps we should have read it as an omen that the MagSafe 2 adapter for older, original MagSafe connectors was listed as discontinued on the Apple Store in the U.S. and Canada last week. Apple laid out a similar challenge with its first MacBook Air in early 2008, which had just one USB 2.0 port to connect peripherals and a micro-DVI port to connect monitors. At a mere 13 millimeters thick and weighing just two pounds, it approaches the iPad’s portability and is just as spartan, sporting only a solitary connector. What seemed inevitable back in 2010 is no closer to fruition than it was then—OS X and iOS may share certain design cues and UX elements, but they’re as far apart as the’ve always been.

In the tech industry’s never-ending quest to shave off as much weight and thickness from products, Apple has nixed traditional ports for one connecter called the USB-C that supports USB, VGA, and more. The new MacBook will replace the iPad for some people, according to Andy Vandervell, an editor at Trusted Reviews. “If you’ve ever bought a keyboard for your iPad and found that experience frustrating, the new MacBook is the perfect tonic,” Vandervell told FoxNews.com. “It’s the most extreme…notebook we’ve ever created. Nothing about the Yosemite redesign suggests touch is being considered in the slightest, and if anything, OS X 10.10 moves the Mac further from converging with iPad, with things like Handoff and AirDrop creating a seamless sharing experience that adapts to their respective environments. USB 3.1 can technically transfer data between the host computers and peripherals at maximum speeds of up to 10Gbps (gigabits per second), which is two times faster than the current USB 3.0.

Apple’s line of tablets may have brought an extraordinary level of simplicity and elegance to common computing tasks, but it also introduced a perfect form factor: light, ultra portable, self-contained and long-lasting. Stand on it, trip over it, yank it—the force of the smallest effort pulls it free. …the surface area of two magnetically attracted halves determines the number of magnetic flux lines and therefore the holding force between them because the holding force is proportional to the contact area between the two magnetically attracted halves… A USB Type C (or USB-C) cable has no such advantage. There’s also excitement around the MacBook’s USB-C cable, which is the same on both ends so users can flip cables and not worry about plug orientation. In the original video, Spanish actor and comedian Juan Joya Borja or el Risitas (Spanish for “giggles”) is giving a TV interview on Spanish TV — he’s actually talking about his work at a beach restaurant.

It has two distinct differences: first, a USB-C male end, such as the tip of a cable, is plugged into a port, very much like larger and deeper Type A and Type B USB connections. Second, while MagSafe was optimized to help with “non-axial” force—any direction except straight out—the USB-C style plug and jack suffer the worst from that. As astrophysicist Katie Mack said, “The genius of the MagSafe connector is that if you apply a force in any other direction it breaks the magnetic seal very easily, and then there’s virtually no force required to remove the connector entirely.” But how likely is a cord-tripper to yank a new MacBook off a surface versus the USB-C cable coming out first? The 2010 MacBook Air refresh didn’t bring back everything we’d lost, but Apple did ditch the trap door, beef up the storage, and re-illuminate the keyboard. My calculations, vetted by Mack and a variety of engineers, show it’s almost certain the MacBook will move a bit or a lot unless all your stars perfectly align.

Because acceleration is an exponential function, an object travelling at rest that is moved at 1m/s2 traverses 0.5m (1.6 feet) in the first second, 2m by the second second, and 4.5m by the third second. But that wasn’t well received. “I am still trying to understand who are they trying to target with the new MacBook,” Gurpreet Kaur, an analyst at market researcher Gap Intelligence, told Foxnews.com. “Maybe this is their answer to [Microsoft’s] Surface?” Then there’s the starting price of $1,299.

Here’s what I’d like to see in the second generation. (And I’ll skip such obvious gimmes like another USB-C port, faster processor, and lower price.) Adding Touch ID to a laptop would fix that, plus let me unlock the computer itself biometrically. That’s $400 more than the entry price for the 11.6-inch MacBook Air. (Which, by the way, isn’t that much heavier at 2.38 pounds.) That puts it in the elite product category and rules out cost-conscious consumers.

After 10,000 connection cycles, no fewer than 6N should be required. (To compare with something you’re already familiar with, USB Type A connectors sold as parts typically note a minimum 10N force for extraction.) The MacBook exerts a pull of its own, just sitting there. In tests, USB 3.1 connections aren’t reaching the full throughput of 10Gbps, but speeds will get faster as the controllers and chipsets are refined.

And Apple will undoubtedly improve on the design giving millions more consumers more reason to opt for the tech giant’s new vision of the laptop down the road. With a thinner design that squeezes the spaces between letters and brings them flush against the case, it shifts our expectations of how we type on a notebook.

Jony Ive and his design crew could team up with some furniture designers to make the most beautiful wireless charging station the world has ever seen. The new butterfly mechanism changes the feel and feedback we get while typing and creates a uniformity under our fingers that those of us who do a lot of iPad typing will immediately recognize. We multiply that by 0.92 kg to get our force in newtons, or approximately 9N. (Aerospace engineer Bradley Grzesiak cautioned me to avoid too many decimal places: earth’s gravity varies enough around the globe.) But we have to factor in friction. At the recent Mobile World Congress, USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) officials said that it is possible to carry the Thunderbolt protocol on USB 3.1 copper and optical wires, and Intel hasn’t dismissed that idea either. It takes up more of the palm rest to let your hands sit in a more natural position, and like the keyboard, the underlying mechanism has been redesigned to provide a more homogenous experience that requires no actual clicking.

A standard friction coefficient for rubber on wood, the closest comparison I could find, is 0.70 for static friction (sometimes called stiction), or friction at a standstill. I’m still clinging to my unlimited data plan on AT&T—the company no longer offers unlimited data on new plans, so I’ve kept the same exact data plan that I got with my first iPhone in 2008. Even with Force Touch—a feature that’s all but certain to land on the iPad with this year’s refresh—the tapping is intuitive, and the trackpad is able to recognize your touches without needing much more pressure than you would use to long-tap an object on a touchscreen. The biggest knock on Apple’s svelte new notebook is that it doesn’t have enough expansion, a familiar refrain that we heard when the iPad launched five years ago.

Drang—the nom de Internet of a consulting engineer who writes exceedingly clever things about science, software, and engineering—suggested via email that 0.70 is optimistic for many surfaces, and 0.40 more reasonable. People have been yelling for Apple to add a USB port or memory card slot for as long as its been selling its tablet, but as the iPad has evolved it’s become clear that most people don’t really need those things.

My Mac laptop is for work, and I work online, so I would pay a premium for the peace of mind of knowing I could connect anywhere I can find a cell signal. Perhaps a prepaid Wi-Fi hotspot like Karma is the way to go since that could get my iPad or my Mac online, but that’s another thing I have to carry and keep charged.

But the organization for now has more important priorities, like making USB 3.1 a port that can be used to charge laptops, mobile devices and appliances. However, Grzesiak pointed me to a 1942 National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) testing report on rubber (see above) that looked with more detail into the initial point of overcoming static friction at various rates of initial acceleration.

I can’t remember ever using my iPad while it was plugged in, and despite less overall battery life than the Air, it still has plenty of juice to easily get people through a full day, even while traveling. A jerk from a cable could accelerate a laptop so rapidly that the initial coefficient factor of rubber on a glass table could be as high as 5—meaning you’d need force on the order of five earth gravities (50N) to get the MacBook moving. But recall that force involves mass and acceleration: an abrupt yank by a heavy weight (like a human’s leg intersecting with a cable) could briefly produce force on that order of magnitude! For one, USB 3.1 will support the upcoming MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) 3 specification, which can stream 4K video from mobile devices to TV sets. After the laptop has overcome static friction, kinetic friction comes into play, dramatically reducing the force necessary to keep it in motion and accelerate it further.

I remember being distinctly bummed that the first-gen MacBook Air released in 2008 didn’t have the light-up keyboard that I loved in my big ol’ 15-inch MacBook Pro. There’s a reason Apple announced its new MacBook at the Apple Watch event; buyers will likely be using it as a companion, either to a more powerful Mac or an iPad. You might say it’s the ultimate Handoff machine, and if Apple were to implement an iOS-like iCloud backup system on the Mac, many people would never have a reason to plug in a peripheral device.

In that scenario, we know you need to apply an initial force of between 2N and 50N depending on materials and assumptions to cause the MacBook to reach an acceleration rate of the magical 1m/s2, but then less force thereafter. I’ve taken a second to look around the crowd when covering big tech events and press conferences at CES, and I always get a little thrill to see a sea of glowing Apple logos perched on the laps of rows and rows of journalists. (Especially if the press conference is, say, Samsung’s. Some technologies have already made their way into Apple’s other laptops, and after a few years we won’t even remember ever being mad at the single port. Assuming the USB extraction force’s upper end, 20N, is the static friction and 8N is the kinetic friction, it’s possible that the cable pops free in a fraction of a second before the laptop moves much, if at all.

If you pull on the cable with constant speed, or with any acceleration less than 4.8 m/s2, the connector will never come out, and you’ll dump the MacBook on the floor. Because the USB Implementors Forum describes a wide range in the spec, until and if Apple’s specific USB-C adapter is tested across multiple computers for extraction force, it’s impossible to know the necessary acceleration. If you’re pulling at any angle other than straight on, it’s quite difficult, as the force is now directed in a direction that would increase friction a lot.” Dr. Greg Koenig, an industrial designer in Portland, Oregon, and a principal at Luma Labs, examined Apple’s logic board images and other photos of the MacBook at my request. However, if the laptop is secured in some fashion—even if you’re holding it tightly in your hands—the cable’s male plug end is probably the weak point, and it would be torn off, said Koenig, leaving its shell in the USB-C port, potentially without causing any harm to the MacBook.

At some level, I’m trying to reverse engineer Apple’s thinking around design and testing, both in its larger engineering participation in shaping USB-C, and in its particular implementation. All the calculations and exercises above have certainly been performed a thousand times in simulation and prototyping internally, shaping the development of the socket, logic board, external cables, and more. I’ve heard it said since Monday morning that MagSafe was the single best hardware feature Apple invented for its laptops, and I’m hard pressed to deny that—although extra-long battery life is nice, too.

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