USB-C has become the biggest topic of conversation following Apple’s introduction of the new 12-inch MacBook. After years of separate power, data, and video ports, Apple is now pushing USB-C as a replacement for its own proprietary MagSafe charging solution, as well as other I/O ports included on its previous laptops. Going forward, MacBook users can connect a USB-C multiport adapter to handle whatever accessories they want— USB-C can even support 4k displays using a DisplayPort Alt Mode.
But what accessories will the new MacBook support? Over the last few days, we’ve talked with sources close to the situation to find out what Apple plans on supporting, and whether there will be any limitations for USB-C accessories. The short and amazing answer is that most accessories supporting the USB Type-C specifications should work with your new MacBook. Apple won’t be doing anything to block any specific types of accessories— in fact, it will even allow external batteries or other Macs (!!) to charge the new MacBook…
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That’s a big deal since previously the market for external MacBook charging solutions was all but nonexistent, entirely due to hurdles with Apple’s proprietary MagSafe charging solution. Apple doesn’t let companies build accessories with MagSafe (though some slip by), and in the past has sent lawyers after companies that tried. After figuring out workarounds, a couple of companies have offered modified MagSafe solutions for charging MacBooks with external batteries— including Hyper’s Juice battery packs— but the complex solutions often cost a lot and have compromised designs that require a modded MagSafe cable or full-sized MacBook power adapter, like this AC/DC/AC/DC ChugPlug from Lenmar.
With USB-C, battery packs for MacBook should start to more closely mirror the market for iOS device batteries. Many low-cost and compact designs should require nothing more than the standard USB C charge cable that comes with the new MacBook or an inexpensive USB A to USB C cable. Sources say that any battery solution that meets the USB Power Delivery specifications should work with the new MacBook, though the battery will need to push enough power to actually recharge a laptop. Apple has its own 29W power adapter that will come with the new MacBook.
But it’s not just batteries. The new MacBook will work with DisplayPort alternate mode for video, and we’ve confirmed that means it will work with third-party video accessories as well. That means you won’t have a problem with external displays using third-party adapters, as long as they use DisplayPort signaling over USB-C.
Apple already has its own accessories, the AV Multiport adapter that offers HDMI, USB 3.1, and USB-C inputs, and a VGA version), but neither will come in the box with the new MacBook, and for many people, one will be a required separate purchase of $79. Lower-cost third-party video accessories will work, too, if you want just video-out and no further data or power connectivity. That’s something we were hoping for and expected, but a question we’ve been getting a lot since Apple unveiled the all-new laptop design earlier this week.
You won’t have to wait long for third-party options. Just this week Belkin, Lacie, and others unveiled a host of new USB C cables, adapters, and accessories. Google just started selling a $13 USB Type-C to USB Adapter, a $60 Universal Type-C Charger (60W), and $40 USB-C HDMI and DisplayPort adapters alongside its brand new Chromebook Pixel 2 which also features the new USB standard. These video adapters offer the same types of video output as Apple’s accessories, but at half the price. Many more adapters will certainly be coming soon.
We might be bidding farewell to the safety of MagSafe, but with USB Type-C we’ll finally gain the ability to conveniently charge our MacBooks on the go, and to use a wider range of third-party accessories. The new MacBook’s already amazing battery life and now support for external batteries will likely outweigh the benefits of MagSafe for most.