The USB-C to Apple Pencil dongle represents everything wrong with Apple
Welcome to our weekend Apple Breakfast column, which includes all of the Apple news you missed this week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
Blame it on the dongle
Macworld’s review of the 10th-gen iPad went live this week (and is linked below). It’s a strange review: In many ways, it’s a positive write-up, with the attractive design, excellent cameras, and Magic Keyboard Folio support all earning sincere praise. But there were enough quibbles to knock it down to 3 stars–not least the frankly ridiculous dongle required to pair the iPad with the only version of the Apple Pencil it supports.
Dongles, which cost extra and get lost, and make everything less convenient, are understandably a sore point for Apple users, and they seem to be proliferating. Using a dongle always reminds me of what Steve Jobs said about (appropriately enough) styluses: if you see a dongle, they blew it. A dongle is a tacit acknowledgment that something has gone wrong. Either the wrong product has been bought for the job, or it was designed wrong in the first place. Apple has had plenty of dongles over the years, but the Apple Pencil adapter is particularly irritating.
1. It doesn’t even work as a Lightning to USB-C adapter
A general-use Lightning/USB-C adapter would have some utility, but as a Redditor discovered through extensive testing, the dongle appears to be a single-use product. So, if you were hoping to use the dongle to repurpose your old Lightning cables, you’re out of luck.
2. You’ll lose it
Of course, you will. It’s tiny and it doesn’t attach to anything when not in use. And then your Apple Pencil will be useless until you pay another $9.
3. It doesn’t ‘just work’
The writer of this column considers himself at least moderately tech-savvy but was baffled for roughly half an hour while trying to charge an old Apple Pencil using the adapter. I assumed you’d be able to go Apple Pencil > adapter > USB-C-to-USB-C cable > USB-C power adapter > outlet, but that got me nowhere fast. You have to use a cable and connect to the iPad to charge. (The fact that Apple Pencils have no means of indicating when they’re charging is another pain point.) As indicated in the first point, the dongle is good for only one specific use case, but to most users that won’t be obvious at first.
4. It’s there to upsell you to a better model
The dongle is very much of a piece with Apple’s general approach this year, which we’ve also seen with the weirdly cautious iPhone 14 upgrade: Buy the better model. Apple is a company that is enormously detail-oriented, and at a certain point you have to assume that the flaws in its entry-level products are not there because of managerial missteps or lack of resources, but because they want to prod you into buying something more expensive.
5. It creates more e-waste
As mentioned above, the dongle is now bundled with the 1st-gen Apple Pencil, but we have to assume that at least some of those won’t be needed (when the Pencil is bought by a 9th-gen iPad owner, for example) and will end up in a landfill. Others will be lost (see point 2) and end up in a landfill. And the fact that it doesn’t work as a general-use adapter (see point 1) will contribute to the number of Lightning cables ending up in a landfill.
Inefficient design isn’t just bad for the user—it’s bad for the environment. And if Apple cared about the environment as much as it claims, it would have found a better solution.
6. Apple’s had years to sort this out
Apple still sells the 1st-generation Apple Pencil because it still sells a Lightning iPad. The 9th-gen model is the last iPad to have a Lightning port, so as long as it’s still sold, the original Apple Pencil needs to exist. Fair enough. But the USB-C switch didn’t happen yesterday. The first USB-C iPad Pro and the 2nd-gen Pencil came out in 2018.
Given four years to plan for the change-over on the standard iPad, it’s absurd that Apple hasn’t come up with a more elegant solution than this. The most obvious would be support for the 2nd-gen Pencil, so whether it’s an engineering issue, cost issue, or upgrade issue (see point 4), the whole Lightning thing seems to have taken Apple by surprise.
Apple, we keep hearing, is the most valuable company in the world, with a valuation well in excess of $2 trillion. Over the most recent quarter, Apple made the comically unimaginable sum of $90 billion, so it could probably afford to miss out on a few dollars here and there in favor of user goodwill and an improved user experience. But no: Apple loves hoovering up the nickels and dimes. It’s shoving extra ads onto the App Store, pushing up the prices of its subscription services, and now charging $9 for an adapter. (Granted, the adapter does now come free with the 1st-gen Apple Pencil, but if you bought one years ago, you’ll need to pay up.)
The USB-C to Apple Pencil Adapter is Apple’s design at its worst: We only need to use it because Apple was lazy, stubborn, and a little greedy.
Apple’s iPad lineup is set for the 2022 holiday shopping season, and one thing is certain: There are a lot of models to choose from. We’re talking about the state of the iPad in this episode of the Macworld Podcast.
And with that, we’re done for this week. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter for breaking news stories. See you next Saturday, enjoy the rest of your weekend, and stay Appley.