I sometimes get into–let’s call them debates–with someone* about Apple. His comment was this:
Oh, Apple is caving in and adding USB3. Guess Thunderbolt was the failure it was made to be. Well, I’m happy: Less peripheral connection standards, the better of everyone is.
(He did compliment Apple for now including a USB port on both sides of the new 15-inch MacBook Pro.)
Let’s start in order, one by one.
Why did they wait until now with USB 3.0? Were they never going to include it or was this their plan all along? My guess is that they kind of knew they’d end up including it eventually but wanted to give Thunderbolt a head start. Let’s call it a strategic delay. As a standard, Thunderbolt is superior (more on that later) but to get peripheral manufacturers to adopt it they wanted to have on the market a good number of computers that only supported TB, Not USB 3.0.
If you look at the PC industry in general, you’ll notice that it’s pretty conservative when it comes to killing off legacy technologies. Don’t believe me? Sony, Dell and Toshiba have just launched new laptops and all three include a VGA port (via John Gruber). VGA ports? Yes, VGA ports. VGA was probably revolutionary when it was invented but that was literally 25 years ago. It’s time to move on.
I feel embarrassed using this analogy but heyho.. “If Henry Ford listened to his customers, he would have made a faster horse“. In other words; Don’t sell your customers what they want, sell them what they need.
Is Thunderbolt a failed standard? It can fail in two ways. 1) it’s a useless, badly thought our standard that doesn’t do what it’s meant to and/or 2) it doesn’t achieve wide enough adoption to be considered an industry wide standard. Number 2 remains to be seen, but at the moment things don’t look that bad; at least Western Digital, LaCie and G-Tech have external hard drives that support it. While Apple seems to be the only one having a Thunderbolt port on a display, you can use a Thunderbolt to DVI adapter and have the screen as the last node of linked devices.
This neatly brings us to why as a technology Thunderbolt is so great. To simplify this, it is basically like connecting something straight to the motherboard via a PCI Express. It delivers speeds up to 10Gbps which is so fast that you can’t find a single hard drives fast enough to take advantage of this (You can make a RAID array of SSD drives to do this). Unlike USB 3.0, it supports daisy chaining devices. You can have three hard drives, a Blu-Ray drive and a display hooked to the same port and use all of them at the same time. What’s not to like?
Finally, with this in mind, if you want less connection standards Thunderbolt is the one to have. I don’t mean the industry should completely abandon USB, there’s still lots of good uses for that, not least because it is so widely accepted.
*As the conversation happened on Facebook and the original status wasn’t public, it’s not my place to say who this person is.