The USB port is the new docking station

A lot of people are complaining that the MacBook Air only has USB, MicroDVI and Audio-Out ports. At first, I agreed wholeheartedly. After some thought however, I am starting to see why Apple kept it so simple. USB can be used for just about everything these days.

Everything that comes out of a dock at least...

  • Mouse and external keyboard of course - these are easy - no brainers
  • Ethernet? There are now USB - Ethernet bridges and dongles which won't take you to gigabit speed but will be more than enough for 99% of workers. The more common route for network access, however, is internal WiFi which, on paper, can surpass the speed of 100mb Ethernet.
  • Firewire? Don't get me wrong - there is still a need for Firewire, and this is the MacBook Air's most valuable missing port. However, by allowing the MacBook Air to boot from a USB disk (which doesn't help IT admins with boot images on a firewire drive), you can now turn "need" into "want". What about video cameras - the ones that interface with Firewire? Frankly, with the MacBook Air, you are SOL. However, more and more video cameras are shipping with hard drive storage instead of tape now. Most, if not all, of these interface through the USB port. And frankly, if you are doing any video editing on this thing, it better be for a YouTube type quality because it doesn't have the horsepower for serious video - the kind of stuff that requires Firewire.
  • Audio in/out. One of the biggest complaints about the Air is the lack of a microphone-in port. People use these ultra-portable laptops for Skype and SIP calls all of the time. Guess what? USB works for that too. Just get a USB headset or USB In/Out adapter and you are rocking the Skype - if you don't already own bluetooth headsets. The bonus to USB? The signal stays digital until it hits the wires and sounds better. Why do you think dictation software usually reccomends USB mics?
  • Video? Yes, the MacBook Air has MicroDVI output which will power up to 24 inch 1900x1200 HD screens. However, even this port's future is in question at the expense of the USB port. Displaylink is a technology that even pushes video over USB. Right now you can get about 1280x1024 type resolution over the USB port. Reports, however, state that it is a bit sluggish compared with native video.
  • Power? D'oh, that port hasn't quite made it to USB. For now, you need to plug into two cables when you dock your MacBook Air. Life is tough.

So now that we know it can be done, why not put it all in one dock?

I've actually found a product that takes care of most of the MacBook Air's USB - docking needs. The slightly over $100 Kensington Notebook Expansion Dock with Video; USB Connection delivers a 5 port USB Hub, Audio in/out, 10/100 Ethernet, and even VGA out to 1280 x 1024 pixels - all from one USB port. Buyer beware: their drivers for Mac are still in beta. Also, the product isn't nearly as beautiful as the MacBook Air. I would look for Kensington, a strong Mac vendor, to make a MacBook Air version of this product - in the near future. This is obviously rev 1.

Product Description (from Amazon)

The Notebook Expansion Dock with Video uses powerful port replication technology to utilize a single USB port to connect your notebook to USB peripherals, speakers, keyboards and mouse, and even runs desktop monitors at 17" and 19" native display resolution. A unique wedge design lifts the notebook and increasing airflow to aid cooling.PRODUCT FEATURES:24-bit color supports allows notebook-quality video on external monitors;Intelligent Plug-n-Play technology offers automatic selection of best available monitor settings;Drives 17-inch and 19-inch external flat panels at native resolutions of up to 1280x1024 pixels.

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