Apple's peripheral merry-go-round: FireWire is back, ExpressCard is wack

Apple's peripheral merry-go-round: FireWire is back, ExpressCard is wack
The 13-inch MacBook Pro
The 13-inch MacBook Pro
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The 13-inch MacBook Pro
The 13-inch MacBook Pro

As someone who had a lot to say about the missing FireWire 400 ports from the last generation of MacBooks, I'm glad to see the return of the FireWire port to the new 13" MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, it seems like a case of one step forward, one step back for the MacBook Pro range, with only the 17" model being equipped with the ExpressCard/34 slot that many users have come to rely on.

To put this in perspective, my ancient 15" PowerBook G4 managed to make room for a FireWire 400 port, a FireWire 800 port, and a CardBus slot, which is bigger than the ExpressCard/34 slot. Years later (while I type this article on a 10" netbook with an ExpressCard/34 slot), the latest and greatest 15" MacBook Pro is down to a single FireWire 800 port.

And what was the ExpressCard/34 slot replaced with? An SD card slot, which can be added to any machine with a USB port, with a card reader that costs less than USD$10.

Todd Benjamin, director of portables at Apple, recently told PCMag that the company dropped the ExpressCard slot because of the success of USB, claiming that "most if not all" devices that "used" ExpressCard now use USB. How wrong he is. While I can see that 3G modems are available in ExpressCard and USB flavors, there are several "pro" applications I know of for ExpressCard.

The first is the range of adapters that add USB 2.0, eSATA or FireWire 400/800 ports to a machine - which is important enough for many users, even before you consider that the ExpressCard runs on a seperate bus, allowing a finicky, bandwidth-hogging FireWire device to do its thing on the dedicated FireWire 800 port without interruption from additional peripherals.

There's professional audio equipment like Apogee's Symphony Mobile and Universal Audio's UAD-Xpander, both of which require bandwidth and latency that just isn't available from another peripheral bus.

Then there's the ExpressCard-based SxS cards for Sony's XDCAM EX professional video cameras. And you can bet there's likely to be other professional applications in the same boat, too.

The up-shot is that all of the professionals who have come to rely on these pro applications are now required to bite the bullet and buy "the big one" – Apple's top-end 17" laptop – during a time when ultraportables are the new black - and let's not forget that global financial crisis keeping a tight rein on purse strings.

What do you think?

Is the lack of ExpressCard a deal-breaker for you? Do you still miss that second FireWire port? Are you concerned that the Macintosh is becoming a platform that can be relied on for as long as your current machine lasts?

Or perhaps I'm overreacting? Is this just a representation of how fast the industry is moving? Should I just buy the big one and get over it?

Let us know what you think in the comments section.

With respect, you may be overreacting. As was mentioned at the WWDC keynote on Monday, the number of users who made use of the EC slot never even cracked 10%. I'd be willing to bet that those who did were predominantly 17" MBP users. And no, the EC slots on current machines are not going to stop working because Apple came out with a new laptop. I don't know of a professional who will use a 'netbook' for video work! Who is going to get a $350 computer to plug into their $8000 video camera? Apple is always looking ahead, while my buddy who was suckered into buying some crummy 9lb Dell Uninspirion has big ugly metal connectors jutting out of it that he can use with the ancient printers and projectors he threw away years ago.
Scott Rose
You are not overreacting at all. This decision is nothing short of BETRAYAL by Apple to its most loyal customers, and it is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of customers who depend on the ExpressCard slot daily. Apple has not given any equivalent replacement at all. I talk about this issue at great length on my blog at:
Kate Seamer
I would like to see the ExpressCard in this model.