Apple ThunderBolt Hub And Dock Options Expanding

Apple ThunderBolt Hub Ports
The number of shipping ThunderBolt docking stations and device expansion hubs has grown rapidly recently. If you remember two or so years back, the world waited, waited, and waited for Belkin to actually ship it's announced, delayed, then revised multi-port ThunderBolt dock. Eventually Matrox beat them to the punch with the first devices that reached the market. Fast forward another year and we now have a half-dozen or more ThunderBolt expansion hubs from six manufacturers vying for consumer's wallets.

The current players now include Belkin, Matrox, Akitio, StarTech, CalDigit - and now ElGato. It should be noted that StarTech, CalDigit, Matrox and ElGato's products appear very similar; with Analog Audio In and Out jacks and a USB 3.0 SuperSpeed port on the front -- with varying USB / FireWire / Ethernet / Video / ThunderBolt output interface configurations on the back.

It seems some are licensing a reference OEM design of some sort, and custom tweaking their port configuration choices somewhat. Check specs closely since some only have a single ThunderBolt port which doesn't allow easy pass-through daisy-chaining, others may have only a single USB 3.0 port but additional, slower USB 2.0 ports on the back. Some don't feature a FireWire port at all, but hubs featuring dual ThunderBolt ports might allow you to use one of them with a ThunderBolt to FireWire 800 adapter. Video support for DVI or HDMI might vary as well.

Of note, some of the newer models of these ThunderBolt hubs can properly support high-current device charging for iPads and/or additionally support devices like Apple USB keyboards or external USB-powered SuperDrive disc drives. ElGato and CalDigit offer such support for their ThunderBolt multi-port devices with an OSX 10.9+ software download available at their respective websites.

2014 Mac Computer Accessory Trends

Quarterly Apple Macintosh Sales
The sales numbers of Apple Macintosh systems have been quite healthy and relatively consistent the past few years: Apple continues to ship between four to five million Mac desktops and MacBooks each quarter. While there hasn't been steady upward growth - the stability has occurred in an industry where laptop and desktop PC system sales have collapsed in the face of a massive shift towards cellphone and tablet computing platforms. The Personal Computer isn't dead, but it's suffering as consumer's interests and wallets have headed in a highly mobile, handheld direction.

Sadly, this slump in traditional computing HAS had a drastic impact on more conventional desktop and laptop computer accessory makers. And that impacts the computer accessory market for Macintosh peripherals as well. Logitech has struggled recently - same can be said of Creative Labs and others - as sales dwindled and they had to retool their thinking and product lines to address an ever-more transportable -and often battery powered, rechargeable, wireless, compact and lightweight product trends to adapt to mobile computing devices like the Apple iPad and iPhone.

Some of the categories most impacted by conventional PC and Mac computer accessory makers

Computer Speakers: Here Bluetooth (and to a lesser extent Wireless AirPlay) speakers rule the day as people want speaker systems that can move from room to room - or on the go. Rechargeable, compact and lightweight for use with any computing device. It's putting a lot of pressure on the desktop speaker market, that's for sure.

Keyboards: The trend here is towards Bluetooth wireless keyboards that can work with a Mac (or PC) AS WELL AS A HANDHELD gadget like the iPad or iPhone when needed. Keyboards with on-key icons highlighting both OSX and iOS specific functions have an edge.

External Web Cameras: Still an important market for those desktop and laptop users who need and want the versatility of an external, Mac compatible webcam. But the vast majority of personal computers being sold are laptops anyways, where a built-in webcam is standard issue.

Inkjet and Laser Printers: These days, printers MUST by and large offer Wireless Wi-Fi and Apple AirPrint compatibility for mobile devices.

Scanners: Already largely cannibalized by the All-In-One printer market, the selection of standalone flatbed scanners are in a noticeable decline. USB powered document scanners for mobile professionals - or scanning wands with built-in memory chip are more in demand for mobile users.

Drive Storage: The need for Mac data backup hasn't changed, and handheld devices data files are often synced and backed up from a traditional computer. Here, the bying trend is in cheap but faster USB 3.0 Portable Drives for Mac making up the lion's share of the market, with big full-size desktop hard drives appealing to a much smaller group of consumers.

SSD Drive Technology: Whether it's USB 3.0 or ThunderBolt storage, the rapidly dropping cost of Mac compatible SSD drives is making the most out of these very high speed interfaces. With most Mac laptops and Macintosh desktops offering SSD or Apple Fusion solid-state / hard drive options, TimeMachine backups or OSX drive cloning is a breeze with ThunderBolt or SuperSpeed USB 3.0 external drives.

10Gbps USB 3.1 vs ThunderBolt - The War Few Care About

Literally, within hours of the USB Consortium's official announcement about the standardization of the upgraded USB 3.1 specification to 10Gbps data transfer rates, the tech columnists and bloggers of the world promptly, predictably and prematurely declared ThunderBolt interface at war, dying, dead. It's all so cliche' I want to puke. Never mind the fact that there won't be any USB 3.1 ports or gadgets to plug into them for another year or two. They're already counting the dead bodies and detailing the 'fatal blows' before any have occured.

Computing technology isn't set on a 'battle ground'. It's simply a landscape for emerging, existing, aging and fading technologies that cycles through some very logical progressions, serves specific computing needs and is eventually supersceeded by 'The Next Thing' that does it better, faster, more efficiently and ulltimately cheaper.

This false 'War' between ThunderBolt vs USB 3.0, or ThunderBolt II vs USB 3.1 doesn't resonate in the least with MOST consumers. Spec driven tech GEEKS may be important early adopters and cheerleaders, but little of this matters to a computing technology consumer who just 'plugs gadgets in' and doesn't give a damn about what's under the hood.

USB in general - USB 3.0 in fact, and USB 3.1 in particular will resonate with consumers for 1 reason above all others: Any given USB gadget will simply be CHEAPER than it's ThunderBolt equivalent. So if you want a gadget war, the war is always won on price for the cheapskates, and won on time-is-money technical prowess to the Professional, Business and Enterprise markets.

Apple Handheld Gadgets vs MacBook And Mac Desktops

Mac Gizmo Guy
The personal computing landscape is dramatically shifting as traditional desktop and laptop computers come under pressure from handheld mobile computing devices like tablets and cell phones. The Apple iPad tablet, iPhone and iPod touch offer computing power and software sophistication undreamed of only a handful of years ago. In the past few years -- decades of dominance by the iMac, Mac mini and Macintosh Pro desktops and MacBook laptops now shrinks in the shadow of handheld mobile computing devices.

As long as they exist, MacGizmoGuy will always be about the MacBook portable and Macintosh desktop computing scene. The Apple world simply grew too big and diverse for one guy to cover everything iOS and OSX, Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod and all the accompanying peripherals and accessories WELL. As such I'm staying focused where I have the most expertise - on conventional desktop and notebook computing. Four to Five Million Macs sold every quarter ain't nothing to sneeze at.

That said, I am mindful that even in the Mac world, nearly 3 out of 4 Mac users opt for a MacBook Pro or Air laptop. As such, I'm keenly interested in portable and mobile computing accessories with a mindful eye on those which ALSO WORK WELL WITH APPLE HANDHELD DEVICES so that your purchase decision and computer accessory investment can be leveraged across multiple Apple hardware gadgets. I juse didn't want to become what 'MacWorld' has become: More of an iWorld online publication that's less and less about Macintosh with each passing day. I didn't want to become an Apple tech blogger writing about the 20 new plastic iPhone cases released every day and bore you with bits of plastic that changes shape, size and color by the minute.

"All Mac - All The Time" has long been MacGizmoGuy's motto: And I'm sticking with it.

USB 3 Mac - SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Hubs

USB 3.0 Hub For Mac
With the exception of the Mac Pro (expected soon) all other currently shipping Macs now include SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports. That includes the Mac mini and iMac each with FOUR USB 3.0 ports on-board, and the MacBook Pro and Air which have dual USB 3.0 ports.

For Mac desktop users, four USB3 speed ports is more than they'll ever need. Especially when they might be using WiFi to connect a printer, Bluetooth to connect some external speakers, and maybe even using a ThunderBolt external drive for TimeMachine backups. However, the majority of Mac users are mobile and 3 out of 4 Macs sold are MacBook laptops. The MacBook line only include two USB 3.0 ports these days so there may be a need for a Mac USB3 hub to connect additional devices when Apple users are at at their home or office desk.

One of the computing technologies I track has been the USB 3.0 peripherals market. Years back I knew that SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports would become the de-facto successor to USB 2.0 and that both Windows PC manufacturers and Apple would eventually adopt this emerging device connectivity standard. A website dedicated to USB 3.0 Hubs has languished amid fierce competition and the delayed and rather slow adoption of USB 3 over the past few years. It made sense to recently make the site Mac-specific to target a less competitive niche, and to find Mac friendly products with both function and flair that's more in line with an Apple users technical needs as well as their aesthetic sense of style and design.

We've yet to see USB 3.0 take over in a huge way: Currently USB 3.0 has become ubiquitous for external hard drives, USB 3.0 flash drives, and ultra-fast SSD drive solutions. USB 3.0 has also appeared on high-demand A/V devices like music and video recording gear. Other peripherals like printers, scanners, keyboards and mice don't really NEED the potential 5Gbpa bandwidth USB3 provides, so those sorts of peripherals have yet to see SuperSpeed upgrades.

Insanely Great Mac Accessories - That Work With iOS Gadgets

A huge shift is occurring in the personal computing marketplace: Desktop computers and even good ol’ laptop sales are under tremendous pressure as more and more people take to iPhones, Smartphones, and tablet computing on Apple iPad and others. The chart below from IDC reveals the increasing trend towards mobile computing devices and phones and away from conventional computing platforms.

Handheld Devices vs Conventional Computers

These trends are of interest to Apple computer users. Many of us use both a Macintosh desktop or MacBook laptop AND have one or more iOS gadgets like an iPad, iPhone or iPod to complement it. So our notion of shopping for the “Best Mac Accessories” these days should really take into account the kinds of Apple compatible peripherals that will work well on MULTIPLE computing platforms.

One good example of shopping for tech peripherals with the most versatility and usefulness for both Mac OSX and Apple iOS would be in the Bluetooth computer speaker market. Ideally, look for wireless Bluetooth speakers that can pair with - and remember the configuration for MULTIPLE devices. And if you use an iPhone, HANDS-FREE Bluetooth speakers with built-in microphone and call management features are the smart buy.

For more private audio needs - a stereo Bluetooth headset for Mac and iOS can serve both Mac desktop and MacBook users - as well as mobile computing needs for music listening and handling calls on your iPhone as well. Again, look for on-earpiece controls for call management if you plan to use a handsfree capable headset for your cellphone needs.

Another example is the insane demand for Apple AirPrint compatible printers for iPad - iPhone or iPod Touch. More and more laser, inkjet and All-In-One multifunction printers now support wireless iOS AirPrint printing, as well as compatibility with Mac OSX.

Lastly, compact wireless Bluetooth keyboards for iPad, iPhone and Mac which implicitly support some of Apple iOS or OSX special function keys are available when keyboard input is needed as well.

In conclusion, when you’re shopping for Apple accessories, think with a multi-device big-picture view so that your peripheral purchase can work well on existing platforms you already own -- and those mobile gadgets you’re more likely to acquire in the future.

Mac Speech To Text Dictation Services

Mac OSX Dictation Services
Mac Speech To Text is a new feature of OSX Mountain Lion. Apple voice recognition and Mac speech recognition has taken a huge step forward in OSX 10.8 and higher. OSX has had some degree of Mac voice recognition capabilities with VoiceOver assistive software in the Speech preferences pane. But now, Mac dictation services take Apple speech recognition to a new level. It allows you to simply say what you want to type in any application that supports text input. That includes not just word processing and text editing apps, but also inside of any web pages which have text fields as well. For example, Apple speech to text capabilities are very handy for filling out online forms, composing a Twitter tweet or FaceBook status update, or dictating a new blog post.

Apple dictation services are not on by default. To enable Mountain Lion speech recognition and OSX speech to text features you must explicitly turn it on in System Preferences. You must also have an active internet connection since your spoken words are transmitted to Apple servers for translation and the resulting text is sent back to your OSX application.

Unlike other standalone speech recognition programs for Mac, dictation in OSX doesn't require any training sessions to recognize your unique vocal patterns, and supports native translation of over a half dozen spoken languages, not just English. Once activated, simply press the FN Function key twice to begin recording your voice pattern, tap the FN key again to transmit it to Apple's servers. After a few seconds of processing, the interpreted text is sent back to your Mac application.

OSX speech recognition isn't perfect, and really supports just a very basic set of punctuation commands. But it can save you a ton of typing once you get the hang of dictation Apple style. It's important to speak with diction and clarity - and have a good quality sound recording mic or USB headset for Mac to insure the highest recognition accuracy possible. I've found dictating just a few sentences at a time works best. Don’t expect Apple's speech to text translator servers to interpret long, long paragraphs. Just give it small, digestible sentences and sequences to process.

Macbook dictation presents a few challenges. Unless you own a very recent MacBook like the Retina display model that has a directional beam-forming microphone array built-in, the built-in microphone under they keyboard on most Mac laptops aren't ideal for speech to text recording. The MacBook's internal mic also has a tendency to pick up keypress sounds and hand movements as you use Mountain Lion text to speech, which isn't desirable. Use of Mac compatible OSX dictation headset or external Mac compatible microphone can improve Macbook speech recognition and minimize any errors. The more accurate the speech pattern recording is, the less editing that will be needed to correct any misinterpretations.

Top 10 Currently Shipping ThunderBolt Hard Drives

Apple ThunderBolt Port
Wanting to take advantage of Apple and Intel's ultra high-speed ThunderBolt interface on your Mac desktop or MacBook? Here's 10 currently shipping ThunderBolt external hard drives that range from surprisingly affordable to insanely fast - and expensive.

Presented somewhat in order of price, starting with the very affordable Buffalo miniStation combo drive under $200 and ranging up to the performance leading Pegasus Rx RAID series. In between, you'll find reasonably affordable consumer drive options under $500 and higher capacity ThunderBolt drive offerings for professional and business markets.

1. Buffalo MiniStation Combo Drive - USB 3.0 + ThunderBolt

2. Seagate Portable External Hard Drive, Dock and Cable

3. Elgato ThunderBolt 120 GB Solid State Drive

4. Seagate GoFlex Desk External Hard Drive, Dock and Cable

5. LaCie 1TB Little Big Disk Thunderbolt Dual Drive

6. Western Digital My Book Thunderbolt Duo

7. G-Tech G-RAID with Thunderbolt 4TB

8. LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt SSD 240GB

9. LaCie 2big Thunderbolt Series 6TB Drive

10. Promise Pegasus R4 ThunderBolt Drive Array

* Most of the drive models linked above come in various capacities from each manufacturer. ThunderBolt SSD's are typically 120GB or 240GB. Spinning platter drive options range from a modest 500GB to 3TB in the consumer market, and 4TB to 12TB and beyond in ThunderBolt RAID multi-drive systems.

** Check product details carefully. Many external ThunderBolt storage offerings do NOT include a ThunderBolt cable in the box and must be purchased separately. Currently, Buffalo ships both USB 3.0 and ThunderBollt cables in the box, as does Seagate's GoFlex drives when ordered as a bundle. Otherwise all higher-end drives are still selling the cable separately.