Pointlessly Portless

If there’s one thing which vexes me more than struggling for innovative methods to retrospectively portray the present tense, it’s excuses.  Not any excuse you understand, not the sort of innocent reason one might give to graciously extract themselves from a toilsome social obligations; be they weddings, dinner parties, school reunions, having to host the sort of “friend” who spend their entire visit unburdening the hardships of a handsomely paid career and fawning over their children’s academic distinction, despite having  already done so in a five thousand word email last Christmas.  No, there are indeed many justifiable excuses.

However, when did you last stroll into a shop and…oh wait, if you’re reading this a generation or so after the fact then there’s a fair chance you may never have strolled into a shop.  Fine.  When did you last solicit an organically algorithmic cyber sales assistant to ask something along the lines of,

“Excuse me, I require a pair of “Dilossia Signature Edition” chinos size 31/34 , do you have any in stock?” only to be met with a response akin to,

“Why would you want Diloassias when these “Bleevox Primes” are the same quality  for two thirds of the price?”

“But they don’t have any pockets,” you observe.

“Why do you need pockets when  you now have enough in hand for a matching designer purse belt available on exclusive promotion for the next 10 seconds.”

Like it?  Here’s a second, somewhat less fictional hypothetical.

“Pardon me, but do you know of any mobile phones that still exhibit something commonly known as a headphone socket?” The response,

“Why would you want a headphone socket when you could have the Rylatone Madrigal S104 premium wireless earbuds featuring the revolutionary Moraylink ES paring chip ensuring an instant and infallible connection.”

“But I’ve already purchased the one “o” threes, one “o” twos and one “o” ones for a hundred dollars a piece and each lasted exactly one day over one year before magically failing to recharge whereas my Kanteross Aria Z1s have survived my last three handsets despite aeons of rigorous use including running and cycling through storms, intensive gym workouts, two Himalayan hiking holidays and being put through my Clendrax Sanirotor washing machine three times.”

“But they’re WIRED!”  Yells your nagging rep.  “A hundred dollars a year is a bargain for being able to turn your head suddenly without feeling like a fish on a hook.  And if you’re as clumsy as you imply, Might I suggest you consider Rylatone’s enhanced “Melody Plus” care policy which provides  an unconditional open ended warranty extension for an annual fee of just 99 dollars 99 cents?”

Despite ancient retail’s rose gold rule, “the customer is always right”, neither of these scenarios place any party squarely in the wrong since in the first instance, it could be argued that highlighting smart deals to potentially naive buyers might well serve their best interests whilst in the second,  all insufferably smug sellers are entitled to express their opinions, even if they are unfounded, misguided, ill-justified and utterly stupid.  Silver tongues cannily seeking a consumer’s gold is nothing novel.

However, what if such evasive spiel originates not from a lowly merchant on the precipice of virtual or actual redundancy and instead, comes straight from the manufacturer’s most senior officials.

In contrast to convention, let’s save the worst for first.  As Summer abdicated to Autumn in 2018, Microsoft’s high priest of persuasion  Panos Panay passionately paraded the wonders of his master’s Sixth Surface Pro to a room populated with jaded journalists, most of whom were grudgingly documenting the essence of his eulogy upon of one of this machine’s erratic elders.  Surfaces of keynotes passed whose praises Panos had sung with equal sincerity.

Commanding the stage with his creation clutched in one hand, he gesticulated gracefully with the other, tracing rhetorical runes in the air and frequently snapping his fingers to emphasise crucial selling points and punctuate emotive cliches.

“Its got a beautiful matt black finish.”  He remarked in reference to the chassis aesthetics.  Though he might also have been alluding to his jacket, a sleek black-on-grey stripey affair worn with casual aplomb over a plane black v neck with charcoal trousers.  An eclectic ensemble that appeared to scream “I renounce Big Blue Yuppies and Bitter Sweet hipsters in one radical cocktail of coordinated randomness ”   “Every single detail of this black matt finish I have to talk about.” He continued ” Moving amidst his spectators and forcing eye contact whenever they ventured to glance up from their screens.  “We obsess about it in the same way I obsess about the kick stand and the sound that it makes when it closes to make you feel confident.”  The latter phrase was originally used by Ellis R. Shatsworth, a extrovert door to door toilet seat salesmen who rose to prominence in New England during the 1950s.


Since its inception in 2012, the Surface brand had bloomed from one lowly tablet empowered by bowdlerised software, to a diverse family of siblings harnessing cutting edge technology and promoted as portable productivity tools for prolific content-creators who found the app-based environment of an iPad too restrictive.

There was the Surface Book, unveiled in October 2015 with a promotional vignette that elicited verdant glows from the rosy cheeks of many a MACioso.  The machine, an ingenious “hybrid” laptop that could transform into a tablet at the touch of a button.  Pressing eject on its sumptuous and surgically crafted keyboard would permit the screen to be decoupled following a satisfying “click”.  Since the display housed every major component aside from a discrete GPU, owners could realise the prowess of a desktop-class OS entirely through prods, strokes and swipes of their awkward appendages or swoops of the optional Surface Pen.  Polished corporate presentations, detailed coverage of live events or doodling in one’s local deli were all second nature to this metamorphic mechanical marvel.  It also boasted the ability to overheat during intensive game-play, overheat during casual web browsing, rotate its fans at an obnoxious volume when left to fall asleep inside a tartan satchel and  spuriously detach itself when roused from such a feverish stupor.  Speaking impartially, I should declare that numerous customers reported these and other niggles rectified via firmware updates, registry tweaks or turning the bloody thing off and on.

The clan’s third variant was the Surface Laptop, which debuted in the Summer of 2017 and combined the Surface Pro’s internals with a classic, inseparable chassis.  Once again, it engendered a flurry of attention from fringe Appolytes, whose chic new Macbooks had been marred by the notorious “Butterfly” keyboard.  Another lamentable exercise in wheel reinvention that purported to improved the user’s “typing experience” but in truth, regularly supplanted the user’s typing experience with a random sticking key experience followed by a bashing key in fury experience and finally, a key not working at all experience resulting in a return to the Apple store to have a broken key replaced experience.

Lastly, there was Surface Go, the smallest, lightest and youngest of the brood, emerging a year after its elder brother and priced to prevent any floating voters from contemplating an entry level iPad.  It was supplied with a standard version of Windows 10 Home, factory configured to run in a “streamlined” state known as “S” mode, which limited user’s choice of  applications to the certified selection available through Microsoft’s online store and compelled them to adopt Edge to be their sole internet browser.  Microsoft’s justification was a guarantee of speed, efficiency and security, though acerbic critics drew likenesses to a car salesmen claiming that his vehicles could never malfunction provided the owner kept the boot empty, ran it on refined chip fat and drove no further than fifty yards from their front door.

With that superficial history lesson completed, let us saunter back to the subject at hand….after clarifying matters with this this fact packed table.

Despite the “average” millennial’s readiness to consign their cables to the cloud, technophiles of an older and more resistant strain continued to crave connectivity.  Few things aroused their enthusiasm more than a plethora of ports strategically scattered across the exterior of a freshly un-boxed amalgam of plastic, glass and silicon. To creative amateurs and methodical professionals, sockets signified speed, security and certainty.  Hook a tablet to a laptop, a camera to a tablet or a flash drive to a smartphone and in each instance, both parties would interact forthwith, bypassing the perfunctory small talk that preceded a WIFI exchange.   No finicky pairing procedure, eternally spinning progress wheels or perpetually erratic transfer rates. Hello, come in, tell me everything, ask for anything and however fast you speak, don’t fret, for I’ll understand, so said the host to the client.

Aside from its native protocol this physically reversible interface could be utilized to transmit a multitude of additional data formats and supply up-to 100 watts of power.  Depending on the equipment’s specifications and gamut of dongles at the geek’s disposal, VGA, DVI, HDMI, Display port and Thunderbolt were all implementable over the same connection. 8k displays with refresh rates of 60hz were supported with the potential for simultaneous data transfers at lower resolutions, whilst ferrying files from fancy enclosures occupied by the state of the art flash memory could be executed at speeds comparable to those attained by internally connected SSDs.  Given such a wealth of uses and the benefits each afforded to typical workflows, USB’ C’s exponential popularity was inevitable and it’s difficult to imagine why any self-sufficient solution of vaguely compact proportions would omit such a practical asset.  The Surface Pro 6 was one controversial exception but our Preacher in chief Panos was close at hand to explain.

“If we had to redesign the product every year, then obviously, we haven’t made a great product. What would I be chasing?”

That was it.  No. Really.  That was it. That was his excuse for the exclusion.  And though it provoked widespread outrage, with hindsight, one can surely appreciate the relentless rigors faced by Microsoft’s frugally funded engineering division and what a monumental task it might have been, for instance, to poke a 3 millimeter hole in the template of mass produced chassis and factory solder fifty cents worth of receptacle to the circuit board behind it.  Panos was correct, that really would equate to redesigning the entire product, and when discussing why the port was present on the Surface Studio, the Surface Book, the entry level Surface Go and even a humble pair of Surface Headphones, Preacher Paney’s profound wisdom was almost palpable.

“We’re gonna be methodical, calculated, and take our time, be patient and make sure we’re bringing the right products to market at the right time but also with great quality and innovation.”

After feeding this sentence into an industrial strength subtext detector, It returned the following translation.

”We’re going to be impulsive, reckless, and rush things through, be hasty and make sure we’re bringing illogical products to market at virtually the same time as Apple releases theirs but also with the same covert updates and carefully choreographed  obsolescence.”

While adopters of Microsoft’s mercurial hybrid mourned the absence of pivotal features, Appolytes coveting a homegrown laptop replacement were ecstatic when their gracious leader’s tertiary iPad Pro materialised one month later proudly flaunting a USB-C socket in place of its predecessor’s ancient and cumbersome lightening port, though their euphoria promptly  evaporated when it emerged that this particular manifestation of USB-C fostered appliance-related limitations.  The precise nature of these shortfalls differed according to a deluge of  biased reviews.

“iOS does not support external storage.”  Claimed divisive lifestyle site, The Verge.  “You can plug as many flash drives or hard drives as you want into the iPad Pro’s USB-C port, and nothing will happen.”

“You can use the Photos app to import photos and videos from USB storage, cameras and SD Cards.” Contradicted Apple specialists, 9to5Mac.  “If you happen to have a bunch of photos on a USB hard drive, you can connect it to the iPad and use the Import tab to suck in photos and videos.”

Irrespective of who dabbled in facts, the resultant ambiguity reignited a three year old debate over of weather the iPad was ever intended to redefine the realm of desktop computing, or was merely a swanky statement for self-conscious spendthrifts.  Legions of tech bloggers were unanimous in their acclaim for its pound for pound performance, though much of this was only demonstrable in synthetic benchmarks and ultimately, most had to concede that this iPad, like its ancestors, was destined to serve an ever expending and terminally profligate niche who sought yet another ludicrously lavish sketch book slash typewriter stroke media player.  I think it may be time for quaint illustrative relief.


When Apple’s iPhone 7 slithered onto the shelves during the fall of 2016, it was Senior vice president Phil Schiller who pretentiously rationalized his company’s call to expunge a socket that had provided a literal life line to legions of keen listeners on the go.  His “excuse” took the form of tawdry grandstanding, casting the consumer in a negative light for daring to resist innovation and declaring Apple’s “courageous” designers to be their merciful Savior.

“Our team has tremendous courage,” he proclaimed.  “The courage to move on, to do something new that betters all of us.”

The expression “all of us” encompassed countless sound-minded fraternities that the humble headphone output had united throughout eras of enchanting sonic sustenance.  From mix tape maestros anchored to their weathered but willing Walkmans to ardent audiophiles eager to christian their class leading in-ear monitors with a dose of supreme symphonic splendour, all were compelled by the conscience of the New World Orchard, whose prophecy could never be challenged.  It was both valid and virtuous and not in any manner inspired by the simultaneous launch of Apple’s exclusive wireless “Airpods”, a veritable steal at 160 dollars.

If somehow boldness and strife for a superior future failed to influence the most stubborn cord clingers, a second less productive but more proactive corporate giant was swift to plug holes in it’s own designs and substantiate their action with a far more credible explanation.  Google’s flagship “Pixel” phones were universally endorsed in the fast developing realm of computational photography.

Their formula for optical excellence merged a propitiatory “Pixel Visual Core” chip with a synergy of sophisticated software algorithms, delivering image processing that was sensitive and responsive enough to administer continuous auto-focus on precise targets, generate multiple depths of field and coherently interpret an unprecedented array of natural and artificial light.

It could also dynamically suppress significant motion blur and resolve all but the most minuscule color inaccuracies,  convincing many “serious” amateurs to dispense with bulky DSLRs and onerous post-production sessions.  Sadly, such obsessive prioritizing of aesthetics came at the cost of delectable vibrations as another contingent of tethered traditionalists found themselves dishonorably detached.

“The Pixel 2 still comes with a headphone jack,” assured Pixel Community Manager Orrin Hancock barely a year after Apple’s divisive decision.  “But we have moved to USB-C, a standard that is becoming commonplace in the best phones and laptops of today. Moving to the USB-C audio port with Pixel 2 allows us to provide a better audio and digital experience, as we move towards a bezel-less future,”

Head product honcho Mario Queiroz also cited unsightly boarders as motive for Google’s move, “We want the display to go closer and closer to the edge. Our team said, ‘if we’re going to make the shift, let’s make it sooner, rather than later.’ Last year may have been too early.  Now there are more phones on the market.”

Rational, progressive and constructive, so said those championing the data Goliath’s philosophy.  Two potent voices of reason justifying their illustrious benefactor’s radical policy with the same plausible excuse, one that could not possibly be linked in any sense to the parallel release Google’s propitiatory wireless “Pixel Buds”, touted as a trendy, more functional alternative to Apple’s AirPods and, by sheer coincidence, obtainable for exactly the same price.

Had brazen appeasers Queiroz and Hancock entertained a sliver of honesty, they might also have been a trifle sheepish, for the original Pixel had not only extended an olive branch to Bluetooth phobics, it had also publicly scorned Apple by promoting the feature as, ”satisfyingly not new”.

Moreover, such a concerted campaign to cull borders might have rung truer had the Pixel’s third augmented incarnation not harbored yet another “notch-rorious” phenomenon made famous by the bearer of forbidden fruit.  When the iPhone X first graced high-society sporting a unsightly fringe, astute Android advocates expected Google’s response to reflect their chorus of contempt and perhaps cast a cloud of uncertainty over Apple’s beloved blend of fashion and function.  Regrettably,  Google’s passion to formulate a more palatable solution was nullified by a fear of disaster for daring to be different, a fear fostered by Apple and weaponized with frequent success against its stiffest competitors, despite their comparable resources and international brand recognition/awareness.

Not only did Google mimic their foremost foe’s cosmetic faux pas, they augmented it and provided the same excuse for its existence, namely that it was necessary to house the Pixel 3 XL’s top speaker and dual selfie cameras without resorting to a conventional bezel, though the notch’s generous dimensions alongside the provision of an intricate developer’s hack to artificially expunge it, portrayed Google as a habitual bet hedger with neither the talent to innovate nor the conviction to shun ill-conceived trends.  Their mealy mouthed betrayal of “Wires for Justice” had already eroded customer confidence, but this second showing of submissive imitation was enough to cause many to surrender their Pixel’s unparalleled optics in favour of a third palm-friendly portal to cyberspace.

An embodiment of noteworthy style, finesse and versatility, forged by a rival as revered as any in the field and borne out of decisive, consistent and logical evolution rather than impulsive hypocrisy or weak-willed whims.  A formulation derived from an ancestry of historic distinction, despite one incorrigible rogue with an exploding battery.  A smart phone that, even in its ninth iteration, managed to cater for faddy ears and accommodate micro SD cards whilst preserving ample space on its radiant 6.4 inch super-AMOLED screen.


It might not have been perfection, but judged against the tertiary Pixel Brothers and fresh trio of iPhone X’s, all fleeced not merely of an analogue line-out but in the latter instance, also of the dongle formerly provided to exploit a cable clinger’s treasured tweeters,  Samsung required no deceitful excuses for its Galaxy Note 9.  One question remained branded on everybody’s consonance, including that of this skeptical scribe.  Exactly how long would the industry’s tech-titans deem it profitable to facilitate for those who defied a world bereft of wires.  Port-less phones would be surely be followed by plug-less tablets, then socket-less laptops, eventually precipitating the extinction of cast iron connections or fail-safe fall-backs.  A culture of extortionate consumables that placed honest Joe public at the mercy of contested frequencies, fluctuating reception and one giant hard drive in the sky.  A world enslaved by prohibitive and proprietary transience, clinically concocted to expire on the launch day of the better, the faster and the even more expensive.  Could such enforced separation from and between compulsory appliances eventually lead to redemptive liberation, or would it condemn future generations to an existence of port-less imprisonment.