Apple’s 2016 MacBook Pro might not support existing Thunderbolt 3 devices

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One of the more notable changes to Apple’s 2016 MacBook Pro machines is the complete removal of legacy connectors in favor of Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C ports. The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar has four, and its physical function key sibling has two.

This means that the MacBook Pro is fairly future-proof, as the industry is moving toward USB Type-C in general and the ones used in Apple’s high-end notebooks provide broad support for all kinds of different types of connectivity. However, it appears that while the MacBook Pro will be able to connect to future Thunderbolt devices, it might have a problem connecting to some or most of those already on the market, as 9to5Mac reports.

The issue stems from an apparent incompatibility with the Texas Instrument Thunderbolt 3 controller chips used in current devices. Peripheral maker Plugable, which makes a line of docks for Macs including new Thunderbolt 3 docks arriving in early 2017, issued a statement about a potential incompatibility.

In the statement, Plugable said, “Apple has chosen to prevent Thunderbolt 3 devices using currently available controller chips from Texas Instruments from enumerating and functioning on the 2016 MacBook Pros. All current Thunderbolt 3 peripherals which use this controller chip are incompatible with the new 2016 Thunderbolt 3 MacBooks (To our knowledge, this includes all currently available Thunderbolt 3 devices including our TBT3-DP2X and TBT3-HDMI2X graphics adapters. Our Thunderbolt 3 cables do not require this chip, and therefore are compatible.)”

Given the new information, Plugable has postponed the upcoming TBT3-UD1 Docking Station in order to determine the impact of Apple’s decision and will be investigating options to make the docking station compatible with the new MakBook Pro. Plugable’s higher-end TBT-UDV Thunderbolt 3 dock uses a next-generation TI chip and so will already be compatible with Apple’s machine.

We expect that this will be an issue for many manufacturers and products, such as the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock announced today. If you’re the owner of a current Thunderbolt 3 device and hoped to use it with a 2016 MacBook Pro, then you’ll want to check with either Apple or the device manufacturer to see if it’s supported. There’s no word on the nature of the incompatibility, other than that the devices won’t work with the MacBook Pro — there’s no indication that a device or the MacBook Pro would be damaged if the two are connected.

The Plugable statement is dated November 1 and so is relatively recent. We will be contacting Apple and will update this story if we receive any new information.

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