In the five years since Steve Jobs died, I’ve generally resisted the urge to compare his tenure at Apple with Tim Cook’s. Given the long lead times in product development, it was never fair to arbitrarily pick a point and say that this product represented Steve Jobs’ quintessential leadership, while that product represented Tim Cook. That is, until today. Tim Cook has left his mark on Apple, but it’s not the company’s iPhone, iPad, or Mac products that distinguish him from his predecessor — it’s the dongles.

The absurdity of the situation is neatly captured by the following fact: None of Apple’s newest laptops can connect to its own flagship smartphones without using a dongle or purchasing a separate cable that doesn’t otherwise ship with any of Apple’ s hardware.

I’ve still got a few DVI-to-VGA and keyboard PS/2-to-USB adapters hanging around the house, on the off chance that a friend or neighbor will need to retrieve data off a PC that’s old enough to vote. Twist my arm, and I’ll admit I even have a 3.5-inch floppy drive in storage, along with a few floppy drive cables. Dongles are great. Dongles are useful. But dongles were always the antithesis of what Apple claimed the Macintosh was all about

In the early 1990s, Apple mocked Microsoft and the PC ecosystem for being overly complicated and requiring all manner of clutter to actually make hardware function smoothly. Granted, this was always more a marketing play than a demonstration of technical superiority. Macs, too, could be upgraded and extended, and some of those upgrades were necessary if you wanted to use them for certain tasks. But Apple products have historically focused on offering what you needed or would need without requiring you to carry a cable bag.

Of Dongles and Courage

I’m not a Mac owner — apart from a corporate laptop I used back in 2008, I’ve never used a Mac as a daily driver. But I do follow the evolution of Mac hardware, and the biggest trend we’ve seen since Tim Cook took over is the proliferation of dongles in the Mac ecosystem. The late-2013 revised Mac Pro kicked off the trend. The 2012 Mac Pro had 5x USB 2.0 ports, 4x Fire Wire 800 ports, dedicated digital audio ports, four internal drive bays, a SuperDrive, and dual gigabit Ethernet ports. The 2013 Mac Pro kept the dual gigabit Ethernet and swapped five USB 2.0 ports for 4x USB 3.0 ports, but dumped the Fire Wire 800 standard, dedicated digital audio, internal drive bays, expandable PCIe cards, and the Super Drive. In their place, it offered 6x Thunderbolt 2 ports and the dongles you’d need to connect your old hardware to the new standard.