Two USB-C Ports on a MacBook Air is Absolutely Ridiculous

2018 MacBook Air.

Apple puts four USB-C Ports on a MacBook Pro to make us believe that it’s a “pro” machine. The trouble is, we all do the same things with ports on a MacBook Air which only has two ports. This crippling is all very callous and manipulative by Apple.

The power of a pro-level computer resides in its graphics power, CPU power, RAM and memory bus speed. But Apple would have us believe that, somehow, four USB-C ports on a MacBook Pro is solely a pro feature and lesser Macs, say, a MacBook Air deserves fewer ports.


Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro
Apple’s MacBook Pro. What makes it “Pro”?

Reality Check

The reality is that when a mobile MacBook of some kind is brought back to the home or office and hooked up, the things it has to connect to remain in common. Very roughly:

  • External display: check
  • Keyboard and mouse (or trackball): check
  • Time Machine drive: check
  • Printer: check (if not using AirPrint)
  • Ethernet: check (if Wi-Fi not available or allowed)

It’s the power of the MacBook Pro that allows it to perform tasks faster, and more ports aren’t required to utilize that internal power. So why might Apple cripple the MacBook Air?

  1. A faux justification, in part, for the MacBook Pro’s higher price.
  2. A sales strategy designed to make the prospective buyer realize the obvious (more ports are better) and opt for a MacBook Pro instead of Air.
  3. Make a tacit admission that the buyer is going to need dongles and docks anyway.
  4. An obsession to make the MacBook Air appear clean and svelte. By tradition.
MBA sides. Ultra clean. Ultra crippled. Image credit: Apple

Perhaps an analogy will clarify my point. A company sells a horse saddle with one stirrup—allegedly for average riders. To get two stirrups, one has to buy the pro version of the saddle. But most any rider has two legs and rides in the same fashion and does the same basic things. It’s just that the pro rider is more skilled. Two stirrups are really the minimum.

But the company, following Apple, charges more for the pro saddle with two stirrups.

As they say, horse hockey.

Full of it

Our family MacBook Pro (2018) has all four USB-C ports full, and more would be welcome. How can a MacBook Air buyer possibly survive with just two USB-C ports?
Yes, a dock or hub is called for. And in that sense, Apple is just shaving dimes and forcing the purchaser into a technical corner—possibly for reasons cited above. And more cash outlay for hubs.

Holding back on USB-C ports on the MacBook Air strikes me as callous disregard for the technical needs of the customer. I hope Apple, I’m looking at you COO Jeff Williams, reconsiders this affront to user needs.

20 thoughts on “Two USB-C Ports on a MacBook Air is Absolutely Ridiculous

  • I bought a Macbook pro for 2 grand. 2 ports. Every adaptor I bought sucked in one way or another, overheating, bad connection. No wonder it’s glitching out though when every peripheral has to go through ONE USB-C port (one was being used as power). My boss finally gave me an 8-year old mac to use with better ram and more memory and all the ports for peripherals. It also has a bigger screen. It’s so awesome that I’ve even forgiven it for being a Mac. A legitimately good machine.

    I WAS trying to do it Apple’s way with my macbook pro, trying to just use the two ports, but constant connection issues. completely f’n ridiculous. I can’t believe I spent 2 grand on this overrated piece of garbage. There’s no comparison between it and a mac from almost a decade ago. Thank you for writing this article, and giving me a place to voice my opinion because it seems apple doesn’t give an f

  • Rubbish is correct, but in a different context. It’s my opinion that it’s rubbish to complain about only 2 ports on a MacBook Air, that’s the price you pay for portability.
    It would be more relevant to make that same complaint about the entry-level 13-in MacBook Pro.
    I have a 2017 MacBook Pro “Escape” model, the 13-in without Touchbar & with only 2 Thunderbolt ports. I bought a 7-port expander dock to use with it but rarely have to bring it out.
    I have little need for Ethernet. I can use an Apple TV to connect to an external display/TV/data projector.
    Mouse & keyboard use Bluetooth.
    I have a USB printer connected to the USB port of an AirPort Extreme. It’s seen as a USB-connected printer although the actual connection is wifi. My most frequent use of the ports other than power is for Time Machine & clone backups.

    Basically, I only need to drag out the dock if I’m connecting an SD card from a camera; even then, I’ll more often use the SD slot on my iMac.

  • For a few years now, I’ve observed an abundance of lamentations about the macs in the Context Machine podcast, the daily “struggles” podcast, the articles and their comments and so on, and yet, you’re still buying them. It’s clearly from the tone and opinions expressed there that some of you are not happy with the macs, and yet still using them. I believe you are so ready to try something else. There’s a world of possibilities out there. I don’t complain, but I don’t use them either (only iPhones). Instead of all the talk and saying “Rubbish”, and keep struggling, show some action. Buy something else, install your OS of choice whether it’s Windows, Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora or whatever, and be happy. But I agree with you. Sadly, the mac portables are becoming more and more pathetic.

  • There exists a 6-way adapter for $35 with charging power that will solve all your Port problems and leave one extra pork free. In light of this multi dongle you really don’t need more than one port on your MacBook, because a multi dongle will save you a great deal of time plugging in unplugging out.

  • John – this is one time I can’t agree with you. Certainly for you and your families’ use case 2 USB ports are not enough.

    However, we just purchased a MacBook Air for my wife and the 2 ports are fine for her. She never plugs into an external monitor, keyboard, or anything like that. At most she’d be plugged into power and a Time Machine backup disk simultaneously, so it’s no big deal.

    Personally, I’d MUCH rather see the return of MagSafe than 2 more USB ports. Here are some other things I’d rather see than 2 more USB ports, too:

    1. Migration Assistant to work right the 1st time.
    2. Touch ID to work.
    3. Unlock with Apple Watch to work.
    4. App updates to not tell me “no” because I have to authorize them even though I’ve already authorized them.

    Old UNIX Guy

  • Considering that the MacBook had only one that had to also do power two might be a luxury. /s

    All kidding aside Apple has been pushing wireless really hard. Looking at your list:
    External display – Yes, that one is a problem.
    Keyboard and mouse (or trackball) – Apple is assuming you are using BlueTooth
    Time Machine drive – Apple is assuming you would be using something akin to a TimeCapsule wirelessly
    Printer (if not using AirPrint) – You answered your own question. AirPrint.
    Ethernet: check (if Wi-Fi not available or allowed) – Yes, WiFi or tethered to your phone.

    So while I agree with you, in general I like more ports and more kinds of ports on all sorts of computers, I can see where Apple is coming from. They are pushing an always connected, never plugged in wireless future. What surprises me is that the MBA still has a headphone jack.

  • Guess I’m one of the lucky ones. My MB Air has two USB 3 ports, Thunderbolt and a charging port. One of my USB ports contains a SanDisk UltraFit flash drive with my iTunes library and backup space for critical files.

    I agree with author John – two is not enough.

    Slightly off-topic….Since we’re talking about portables…. and many people are using a portable product of some type, ANY auto-play video is a battery hog.
    Worse than that is the recent addition of the persistent TMO cookie. For a site that has done topics on privacy and has (deservedly) ripped Facebook on privacy, a persistent cookie is hypocritical.

  • This is nothing new. It’s Apple’s strategy for market segmentation, and they’ve used some variation of it in every product line in recent memory. Whether it’s iPhones with insufficient storage, or laptops with insufficient memory and storage, Apple wants absolutely everyone who can afford to pay more (for essentially the same product with 0% to 2% more expensive components, and, as you put it, both stirrups), to pay more. Even those who can’t afford it, really. They’re teaming with some other company to offer low, low financing dontchaknow, while dissociating themselves from with the messy, consumer-enraging business of bill collecting. (Can you imagine if people received harassing phone calls from Apple??? Perish the thought!)

    It’s why they’re the most profitable company in America. They’re masters of upselling because they make the “basic” models unattractive in a way that almost nobody else has the balls (or fan base) to even attempt, and they eliminate direct competition by owning their entire platforms, from hardware to OS, to software distribution channels (App Store). And it works, because everyone here (generally speaking) keeps coming back for more, myself included.

  • Remember the MacBook Air released by Apple mid 2009. It had a SINGLE USB port!!!

    And even the newer MacBook Pro of mid 2017 with just two Thunderbolt ports (including charging via such ports!).

    Last but not least, is it possible to build Thunderbolt 3 splitters or hubs to increase the number of such ports in Mac? I ask because I cannot find them. Not even a male to female Thunderbolt 3 cable or adapter to extend or protect such port on Mac. Is that a limitation of Thunderbolt 3 technology or a restriction of Intel? Thanks.

    1. There are splitters that will let you supply power and connect a second device I believe. There are also breakouts or “docks” that will give you video, USB 3.1 “A” ports, Ethernet, card readers, and so forth. It’s one of the easier problems to work around, generally speaking, but as the author intones, it’s still insulting to force people to do it in the first place.

      1. Thanks, but what I meant was if there was a way to INCREASE the number of female Thunderbolt ports. All Thunderbolt 3 docks that I know have only two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and since one must be used to connect to the Mac, the total number of available Thunderbolt 3 ports remains the same. Is there a way to increase the number of Thunderbolt 3 female ports on a Mac? How? Is there even a cable or adapter Thunderbolt 3 male to Thunderbolt 3 female? O cannot find any of them.

      2. Thunderbolt 3 is designed to daisy-chain from one device to the next. Two ports on each device should be enough to accommodate this. The theory breaks as soon as you try to plug in multiple one-port TB3 drives, but these are bus-powered, so they shouldn’t be chained for electrical reasons.

      3. The problem is that almost all Thunderbolt 3 devices like external SSD have a SINGLE Thunderbolt 3 port. So, you cannot daisy-chain them.

  • Honestly, I go weeks without plugging anything into my MacBook Pro other than power. These days, complaints about port counts are overblown. USB-C hubs are cheap and are a much better solution than a festooning the machine with a dozen rarely used legacy ports.

    At home, simply keep everything plugged into the hub and then connect your MacBook to the hub via a single cable. Charging and all ‘docked’ I/O are taken care of quickly and easily – an elegant solution for rapid docking and undocking.

    Need ports on the go? Keep a spare hub in your bag. Easy-peasy.

    Seems like by limiting port counts, Apple is training users to follow best practices…

    1. Completely agree. Of the 5 things listed I connect to 2 at most, and external display, and sometimes ethernet.

      Keyboard and mouse are bluetooth, and my printer and time machine are both network devices.

      The majority of home users will rarely connect to any of those things.

  • One dongle will do all this. I don’t see what the complaint is about. I learnt this simple lesson with one USB-C on my MacBook. I never used all the ports on my satechi.

    I’m the first to criticise Air for performance (20% slower than MacBook), but connectivity is twice that of MacBook and I’m completely jealous of that. 🙂

  • The auto play videos on this page are more of an affront than anything mentioned in the editorial. How many clicks do you need before you’ve made enough scratch to buy a hub? Glad to have contributed.

    1. Get a better browser? Dissenter gets my vote for private on Mac.
      Seriously, see Dave’s note below. When I used to get them, they were muted. Should be barely noticeable.

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