By Jason Snell
March 6, 2020 12:13 PM PT
Fun With Charts: Vanishing ports
This week’s chart once again originates from a request from Stephen Hackett, who asked me to measure the number of ports on the 15-inch Apple laptop through the years. This chart covers the era of 15-inch laptops, from the original Titanium PowerBook G4 in 2001, and also includes the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019). I chose the last top-of-the-line 15-inch laptop to be released in a given year, and no, I didn’t include any bigger or smaller laptops.
Witness the rise and fall of Apple laptop ports, which peaked at 11 with the 2003-2005 MacBook Pros and has reached an all-time low the past four years with five:
In 2001, the Titanium PowerBook G4 had a VGA port and an S-Video port, 2 USB ports, one FireWire port, modem and Ethernet ports, and a power port. The 2002 model added an audio in jack.
The aluminum PowerBook line appeared in 2003, and with it an upgrade to two FireWire ports. In 2006, the processors shifted to Intel, the name changed to MacBook, and in the most seismic of changes, the built-in modem finally went away. (It was a controversial choice, believe it or not. Apple’s been removing ports and making people angry for a very long time.) The S-Video port also finally vanished.
The next big change in port configurations was in 2008, when Apple cut back to a single FireWire 800 port, and the primary video port switched from DVI to Mini DisplayPort.
After a few years of stability, in 2012 the first Retina MacBook Pro appeared, with only seven ports. Audio in and out were collapsed into a single minijack, and in yet another controversial move at the time, Apple removed the Ethernet jack. FireWire was replaced by Thunderbolt (which could tunnel DisplayPort for video output), but Apple also offered a dedicated HDMI video port.
That general configuration lasted until 2016, when Apple’s war on ports went into high gear. From the heights of 11 ports in 2003-2005, we come to today’s state of affairs: five ports. No more HDMI, no more dedicated power port. Instead, four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack.
How low can Apple go? It’s already gone lower, of course. The low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air only have three ports, and the discontinued 12-inch MacBook only had two. I’d like to declare that the 16-inch MacBook Pro is probably solid at five ports for a while, but after looking at this chart, I’m even more worried about the headphone jack’s chances to survive the next MacBook Pro redesign.
[Updated to reflect the earlier disappearance of the S-Video port. Also, I didn’t include card slots in this chart because slots aren’t ports!]
If you appreciate articles like this one, support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories, and a special community.