From 3 megapixels to 10 megapixels to 50 megapixels, the world of photography has changed significantly over the last 10 years. With the changes in technology, we're always in battle to keep our work and data on the most current iteration. With the rumors of the next Apple MacBook Air, it seems that the USB port is under attack, making photographers everywhere questions how they can keep their work on the most recent format.
I remember back a few years ago when the first laptop was introduced without a CD optical drive. I was in a panic, because literally all of my work was put onto a DVD, and delivered to my client through the mail or in person. What happens when I get my enviable client that doesn't have a CD drive on their computer? What hoops will I need to jump through when that time comes? In my panic, I changed my business format to accommodate for the future. I bought branded USB drives.
At the time, I thought this was the solution. Everything runs on USB these days, and with the current pricing of thumbdrives, it's nearly as affordable as blank CDs or DVDs, and far easier to work with as well. While this meant that I'd have dozens of CD cases in a closet, gathering dust and never to be used again, it also prevented me for getting the inevitable call from a client years ago, asking if there was a way I could resend them the files in a new delivery format.
Apple Making a New USB Standard
All of this news comes out of Apple introducing a new USB standard for the 2015 iteration of the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air exchanges convenience and versatility for size and form, and is looking to change the computer industry to a new standard, called USB 3 Type-C. This is not a new plug designed by Apple, but is hoping to become the new standard for computers going forward. The perks on the new format are simple - for one, it's reversible, solving the problem we've all faced, that despite logic, it somehow always takes three 180 degree rotations before the standard USB cable will fit into the input. Perhaps the biggest benefit of it comes in the bi-directional power, allowing you to charge peripheral devices, as well as the host device. Pairing that with its power output up to 100W (20V), it should also allow you to charge laptops (which are typically around 60W), allowing for a universal power cable for future laptop designs. Alongside it being reversible and versatile, it's smaller, which is a necessity when it comes to MacBook Airs and their PC ultrabook counterparts.
Everything seems great, right? However, the stark downside to this new design change comes in it not being backwards compatible. Prior iterations allowed for backwards capability. With the original USB plug design dating back to the mid 90s, everything would work with the new designs. The new designed of USB 3.0 (and USB 2.0 in the early 2000s) changed only speed of the devices, while maintaining the same shape and form, allowing for all plugs to work with the faster speeds. The new design means one of two things, we're going to need adapters, or we're going to need to buy the new devices altogether to keep up.
Adapters are a simple solution for any hard drives or other systems devices you may use, but what about your clients? If you're delivering your work on a USB thumbdrive, we're only a few years removed from that plug design being obsolete. While it's not terribly important right now, it's something to certainly think about down the line. Clients who've gotten wedding photos from you on a thumbdrive, may not be able to see their beautiful photos in five or ten years, or at least not without scouring the Chinese adapter markets on Amazon.
And while Apple is an early adopter of this technology, it's important to remember it is likely the future standard for all computers to come. The design itself is actually USB 3.1, with a standard of 10Gps - twice the speed of the current USB 3.0. And Apple isn't the only company grabbing on to the new tech. Gaming laptop manufacturer MSI has also shown its interest in the Type-C port, applying it to their latest gaming laptop systems announced at CES this year.
For USB thumbdrives atleast, my solution occurred a year or so ago, and I adapted to using gallery services to deliver photos to my clients. My personal preference is Pixieset, but there are dozens of gallery systems available for people, with each of them racing to acquire the photographers abandoning their USB thumbdrives, and those who still used CD/DVDs. But one must ask, will that be a solution for the future?
For one, gallery systems take a lot of personality out of the process. No longer am I meeting with clients at coffee shops, to give them their branded CD, or their elegantly boxed USB drive containing their photos. My delivery experience has been exchanged for a somewhat impersonal email of their images being ready, but with the ability to share all the photos to friends and family with ease. So while the solution fixes some past problems, it comes with a treasure trove of new ones as well.
The other likely alternative is resistance. USB 3.1 is capable of sharing the same port design of past and present USB systems, and would allow for a slower transition into the new design. By maintaining the old design of ports on computers, and pushing the new design on the backsides of peripherals first, the transition into the new tech would be a bit more organic, all while incorporating its benefits.
But who knows, maybe this new USB design won't take off. Apple's once innovative Thunderbolt system is all but dead by the hands of USB 3.0, and the new design standard proposed by Apple has already been met with plenty of opposition. That said, one value that has come from it is that it's got us thinking. How are we going to make sure our work stays around for longer than a few years? What solutions can we find for problems we're bound to have in the future?