Henge Dock: Turn your MacBook Pro retina into a clutter-free desktop computer
Is the new 5k iMac really the best solution for desktop computing? Or should you buy a top-spec MacBook Pro to double up as desktop and portable? There are powerful arguments for and against both options, but Apple has clouded the issue further by failing to develop the Cinema Display while tempting us with the new, magnificent 5K display of the 2015 iMac. The decision has never been harder.
Yet it wasn't always so difficult. Over ten years ago, before I defected from Windows to Apple, I owned a succession of laptop docking stations and invariably preferred to have just one, multi-purpose computer. In those days laptops from the likes of Sony, Dell, HP and Compaq often had a complementary dock which avoided having to plug in lots of cables every time the machine was returned to base. Those were the days of massive parallel printer connectors and serial data plugs with correspondingly hefty cables, so the dock concept was particularly attractive.
Since moving to Apple I have not come across a successful docking solution. This lack has had a big bearing on the viability of a MacBook Pro, for instance, as a desktop replacement. In many respects, a well specced laptop is the best solution, both for travel and for use back at base. But plugging and unplugging all those cables is a pain; the jumble of cables is also unsightly and offends my sense of order.
To be fair, improved communications and cloud syncing has made it much more viable to run two computers, desktop and portable, than it was even ten years ago. Then, synchronisation was a disaster waiting to happen and trying to maintain two separate computers was not recommended if you wished to remain sane. Now, I happily run two Macs, including my ultra-portable 11in MacBook Air, without any worries over synchronisation, especially since I keep all data on the efficient Dropbox which is common to both my machines.
Despite this, two years ago I sold my last iMac and made it clear I would in future work from one portable computer. I bought the 15in retina MacBook Pro and set it up on my desk together with an old, pre-Thunderbolt and pre-USB 3 24in Apple Cinema Display which was already five years old. I hoped that a new higher-spec Cinema Display would be coming within months.
This was not to be. Frankly, I have now given up on a replacement Cinema Display in the next twelve months, if ever. And, after two years of strugging with a jumble of cables on the top of my desk, I was receptive once more to the idea of the all-in-one computer. The arrival of the new 5K iMac was all the excuse I needed and a magnificent retina-screened wonder now sits on the desk in place of the two-year-old MacBook Pro and all its clutter.
Computer v. Display
The perennial problem with the iMac, however, is that you are buying a transient computer, that will soon be out of date, attached to a magnificent screen that could serve for five or six years. All one can hope for is that, after a year or two, it will be possible to use the 5K iMac as a second display for a more up-to-date computer. At the moment none of the laptops in the Mac range supports 5K but, presumably, this will change as new models arrive during the year.
Now, though, I see that Henge Docks, a company that has in the past manufactured relatively simple vertical MacBook docks, is to produce a really interesting all-in-one dock that, at last, promises to make the laptop the natural choice for both home and portable computing.
This is a very ingenious device which automatically closes on the computer and covers all ports, including the power socket. It is the first product that can access Apple's proprietary MagSafe connector. From the specification and photographs, shown here, it looks like a very useful innovation.
For those of you who haven't invested in the new iMac, this dock could make it much more viable to choose a laptop as a desktop replacement. In fact, if it works as well as promised, it becomes more than just viable; it is downright attractive.
The only snag is that these Henge Docks have to be tailor-made for every computer in the Apple range. Versions for the 13in and 15in MacBook Pros (retina) are scheduled for June 2015 (April if you become an early adopter and pay a tad extra) while models for the MacBook Air are in the pipeline. The danger is that compatible docks for any new MacBooks introduced in 2015 could be further delayed.
Currently, only the version for the MacBook Pro retina is listed but the $399 tag is fairly reasonable for the convenience the dock offers. Unfortunately, you will probably still want an external monitor and Apple does not seem to be in that business any longer. For now, though, I am confident I made the right decision in buying the 5K iMac. But I will be returning to this topic in a couple of years' time when the docking option could once again be a major attraction.