This week Apple introduced an impressive new line of MacBook Pros. They threw in a curve this time though and not only released the standard jaw-dropping power and speed jumps, but also added a completely new I/O port for a technology called Thunderbolt.
Below we’ll take a brief look into what Thunderbolt is, where it came from and why it could mean great things for future iPhone, iPod and iPad owners.
What Is Thunderbolt?
In 2009, Intel demoed a new technology they were working on called “Light Peak.” Light Peak was a new interface for connecting peripherals at lightning-fast speeds that far surpassed that of USB and even Firewire 800.
Since then, Intel has been working very closely working with Apple to bring this new technology to the market. This goal finally came to fruition on Thursday with the release of a new generation of MacBook Pros, which will ship with a built-in Thunderbolt port.
If you’re thinking that the port in the image above looks like the Mini DisplayPort you already have on your MacBook, you’re right. Apple was smart enough to use the same port and connector so there would be an element of backwards compatibility. According to Apple.com, “any Mini DisplayPort display plugs right into the Thunderbolt port.”
Speed and Power
So what kind of speed are we talking? How about 20 times faster than that silly USB 2.0 cable you have sitting on your desk? The graph below shows a rough comparison of the speeds between current technologies against that of Thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt has 10 Gbps of throughput in both directions, which gives you the ability to daisy-chain up to six peripherals at once (including an Apple Cinema Display). It also provides these peripherals with up to 10 watts of power.
Where Are The Amazing Peripherals?
Now, the fact that Apple made the Thunderbolt backwards compatible with the Mini DisplayPort means you shouldn’t have trouble using the port right away. However, all of the amazing Thunderbolt peripherals of the future aren’t on shelves yet.
So here’s Apple debuting this awesome new technology, but no one can really use it for much yet. Sure, you’ll one day have an external hard drive pushing 10 Gbps to your Mac, but that doesn’t help you out one bit today does it?
The smart folks at Apple aren’t the kind of people that let this kind of thing go on for long, so how are they going to address it? How will they show the world right away that Thunderbolt is the new standard that everyone else needs to live up to? If only there were some sort of other Apple product releasing soon…
March 2nd Will Be Interesting
Apple has called a media event on March 2nd. It’s certain at this point that this event is going to be the unveiling of the next generation iPad: the long-rumored iPad 2 (or whatever Apple chooses to call it).
I see a couple of interesting points to consider here. First, notice how close together the iPad and MacBook launches are. This definitely doesn’t prove that they’re related in anyway, nevertheless it makes perfect sense if they have something in common. Further, the iPad is a device that hooks to your Mac on a daily basis to transfer huge multimedia files: full-length movies, endless Beatles albums, etc.
Here we are in search of the perfect place for Apple to implement a super fast new transfer technology to go along with their new MacBooks, meanwhile the single Apple product that needs this technology most is days away from being announced! Is that a whole lot of coincidence for anyone else?
A Cryptic iPad 2 Rumor
The Thunderbolt iPad rabbit hole goes even deeper when you take a look at the rumors that have been flying around about the iPad lately. Way back in December, MacRumors and others started reporting that early iPad 2 case mockups seemed to point to there being a mysterious extra port opposite of the volume controls.
At the time everyone thought this pointed to a USB port, but the logic there wasn’t entirely sound and definitely didn’t line up with anything we know about Apple’s strategies. Now, in retrospect, suddenly the purpose of this mysterious port seems obvious doesn’t it?
Will the iPad 2 Support Thunderbolt?
You can bet that Apple developed Thunderbolt with iOS devices in mind, not exclusively of course, but still as a primary driver. These devices aren’t the future of the company, they’re the present and Apple will continue to steer many of their resources for innovation in this direction.
It’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty whether the iPad 2 will support Thunderbolt, but it sure seems like it from where I’m standing. I’ll say this, I will be more surprised if it doesn’t support it because of the huge missed opportunity that would present.
Obviously, it will be a bit more tricky with the iPhone and iPod Touch, which might not necessarily have room for both ports. Since Thunderbolt won’t be anywhere near ubiquitous for some time, Apple can’t just go and switch to it exclusively. They’ll either have to do some major shuffling on small devices to make room for an extra port or wait a year or more to make the switch.
Leave a comment below with your thoughts. Do you think we’ll see Thunderbolt in the iPad 2? If so, will we see it in the iPhone 5 later this year? If not, how long before we do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!