I’m one of the lucky few who can carry their MacBook Pro to and from work each day, and just use one computer for everything. Still, I’m not always happy with my current setup. There’s one big thing missing that PC laptops have: the docking station.


I’m one of the lucky few who can carry their MacBook Pro to and from work each day, and use the same machine for everything computer-related. Still, I’m not always happy with my current setup. My day job issued me a small Dell laptop, which has one major advantage over my MacBook: the docking station.

Apple spends a lot of time on industrial design and usability, so it amazes me that the process to hook up a Mac to an external keyboard, monitor, and mouse consists of five to seven steps, depending on if you’re using a Bluetooth keyboard or not. As I look at the mess of wires coming out of the side of my MacBook, I’ve got to wonder why there isn’t an official Apple-branded docking station.

Docking stations seem like an idea that should have come out of Cupertino, because they reduce clutter and encourage simplicity. All the cables that would normally plug into the side or back of the computer go into the docking station instead, and there’s a single slot that the computer plugs into. Plug it in, and the notebook is now a desktop.

Apple has a patent for an interesting iMac-like dock for a MacBook, which would be amazing if the price was right. However, actually producing docks has been left to third-party manufacturers. Some have avoided the docking station idea by designing holders for the MacBook, and some have designed docking stations that look absolutely ridiculous.

The best bet for a real docking station so far seems to be Henge Docks, which mount the MacBook vertically.  They look gorgeous, but are only available in a 13-inch size as of this writing, with 15- and 17-inch versions in the pipeline. I’ve signed up to pre-order the 15-inch.

I’ve tried just about every combination of desk layout I can think of. I’ve tried MacBook in front, monitor on the side, no keyboard; MacBook on the left, monitor on the right, keyboard and mouse in front (and vice-versa); MacBook in clamshell mode on the side of my desk where the Dell’s docking station used to be, monitor, keyboard, and mouse in front (what I presently use), and a few other setups that just didn’t seem right.

From Apple’s point of view, the solution is to drop a grand on one of their gorgeous LED Cinema Displays. The display doubles as a docking station, providing power, monitor, and USB ports for the MacBook. It’s beautiful, and certainly reduces the cable clutter, but at a cost that’s hard to justify for consumer-grade use.

Browsing through Shawn Blanc’s “Sweet Mac Setups” I find that most of the setups featured go for the “MacBook on one side, monitor on the other, keyboard and mouse in front” rig. For some, this seems to work, for many others the cabling and accessories start to clutter the desktop. This is the point where I become distracted and want to start moving things around.

One of my favorite “setups” remains none at all. I simply open my MacBook wherever I want to work and start doing what needs to be done. But I’m still left wanting a more complete solution. How do you use your MacBook? If you’ve got a setup that works for you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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  1. For nearly 20 years 1990-2010 Apple wanted a non-business rep. For the next 20 years, Apple would want only a business rep – the last piece of the convergence juggernaut. So expect 3rd parties to start thinking about Apple in the Office. Then after every significant one has given the docking station a shot, Apple would come up with its definitive rendition costing twice as much. Then it would’ve truly arrived at the OFFICE.

  2. Totally understand! I also travel back and forth to work with a MacBook Pro. My solution, is MacBook closed and to the right of the monitor. I use the bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

    BUT, I find myself sometimes wanting or needing two screens. So when that happens I open up the MacBook and use it as a second display, or is the monitor the second display?

    For example, If I am attending a webinar or WebEx meeting..etc. On the monitor I have the browser open to the meeting page. On my the MacBook I will have Evernote open and take notes while watching. While doing this I do find myself using both keyboards, don’t know why though just happens!

  3. I never knew this was even a problem. My Macbook is hooked up to a 28″ via DVI-HDMI cable connection.

    I think this is the real problem – http://www.wheresjobs.com/steve-gets-gets-idea-for-irobot/


  4. Steven Fierberg Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    I have the oldest intel macbook pro. I have the power adapter, a speaker miniplug, and the plug to my 23 cinema display waiting on my desk. I have separate power adapter that is in my notebook bag. When I pull the thing out of my bag, I plug in the display, the power, the miniplug. It takes less than 10 seconds. I have a bluetooth keyboard (was the apple, now the microsoft ergonomic) and the bluetooth trackpad. I don’t have to do anything with them. If I want external hard drives, the firewire 800 to them (daisychained) is right there. It is no big deal. I don’t really understand why you say there are 7 steps, or that it is an issue at all. It is not for me.

  5. more: The printers are hooked up by ethernet to my time machine internet setup, so I don’t have to connect any printing cables.

    By the way, I don’t accept your complaint about Apple’s monitor with all they cables connected. They have done their best to solve exactly the problem you are complaining about. The cost is what you pay for the Apple brand and the quality of the monitor. If you want convenience and perfection of function, then you have to pay the price. If you don’t have the money, fine, but don’t think you have the right to complain about plugging in a few cables…

    1. sorry about the tone, didn’t mean for it to come off that way…

  6. Perhaps I’m just older than all of you but Apple made docks more than a decade ago with their Powerbook Duos. (Jerry Seinfeld had one on his desk, just before he got the 20th Anniversary Mac.) I still have mine (can’t bear to give it up) and it looks like a regular computer housing and sucks in the closed Powerbook Duo in like a VCR tape. Very cool.

    As for me, I use my Macbook Pro as the second monitor to the 24″ Apple Display with power and usb connection. Printing is wireless so no cables there. With my iPad, my MBP now says hooked up to the monitor at home and the iPad is what goes to the office (no monitor my own business email).

  7. Like you I have been wishing Apple produce an Apple Dock. I guess the best solution I can find is the Henge Dock.

  8. I’m a MacBook-up-front guy, when I have it on a desk. Most of my work goes on the external monitor, while IMs, etc. go to the laptop display.

    But it’s just not as nice as connecting all the cables to my ThinkPad dock at work and having everything connected at once when I latch in. The best part is that I get TWO monitor outputs.

  9. Hi, I’m another lucky “who can carry their MacBook Pro to and from work each day”.

    When I moved from my Dell Latitude with docking station to my MBP I suffered, every day I must plug DVI, ethernet cable (here the wifi is very slow).
    keyboard and mouse are plugged on external Dell monitor USB hub so I must plug on MBP also this USB!

    The clamshell is a pain at least for me, it works only if power charger is plugged otherwise the MBP turns off

    Well, a good docking station for MBP sounds very necessary for me, too

  10. I’m another MBP to work every day man, and oddly I was thinking about this very thing this morning. It irks me that I have to plug in 6 cables every time I put my laptop on my desk (power, ethernet, FW, 2x USB and mini display port), and why on earth did Apple design their monitors (I have the old 20″ one) so that the PSU has to be within a foot or so of the computer it’s plugged into – it means the PSU has to sit on the desk instead of being out of the way.
    Amolpatil2k put it best, I think – now that Apple’s pushing more into the enterprise market, I think they’ll start paying attention to efficient physical desk space management. But don’t expect it to come in a big box that sucks the laptop in – it’ll be minimalistic and svelte. It better be, lol, or I’m not bothering with it. Convenience and clutter-removal are no use if it takes up twice the space on the desk.


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