When Apple first unveiled its use of Thunderbolt, like many users, I was so hopeful that us Mac users finally high a truly high-speed interface that would allow us to turn out machines into a computer-version of the Swiss Army Knife.  But time has dashed that hope as Thunderbolt peripherals have very…very…very slowly rolled out.  It’s been almost three years since the technology was first demonstrated and over a year since Apple rolled it into their notebooks, but there are still only a few peripherals that truly allow one to tap the interface.  More are starting to show up in the market but there seems to be one constant trend that is guaranteed to keep the adoption rate down and eventually make the interface irrelevant.  Every Thunderbolt peripheral I’ve seen costs hundreds of dollars.   With Apple’s likely incorporation of USB 3.0 in its next line of computers, I believe that Thunderbolt will not be the average user’s storage transfer protocol of choice but will loose ground to USB 3.0.  Only professionals and some power-users will fork out the money to use Thunderbolt peripherals, and that’s too bad.  Worse, I see it as a harbinger of a bigger problem.

See, this is simply bad for Mac users, professionals, power-users, and pro-sumers especially.  There is every indication that Apple is going to abandon the Mac Pro, and that will leave everyone looking at only the iMac and MacBook Pro lines, neither of which is expandable except through their port-driven interfaces. That will mean USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt.  The high cost of Thunderbolt peripherals then means that users will either be forced to deal with a lack of expandability or pay a pretty penny to keep some in a market that will be limited to few choices.   In this type of an environment, I predict that many users will flock to USB 3.0.  Even though the data rates may be lower than they could get, the extra costs to get to higher Thunderbolt capable rates will not be worth it, except in professional markets where the extra investment costs can be recovered.  Even so, some professional users will still go to USB 3 since any investment they make to do so will be covered if Apple abandons the Mac Pro and they switch to Windows.  (How likely this is when Windows 8 arrives is debatable.)

Apple certainly is not helping things by only providing a “one size fits all” monitor that costs a dollar short of one thousand dollars as its only Thunderbolt peripheral. We own a 27 inch Cinema Display, but I do not have one on every Mac we own nor am I ever likely to equip them all with one.  Likewise, I especially won’t buy a 27 inch Thunderbolt monitor just to use Thunderbolt.  I’m starting to look more at third-party monitor makers for any replacements we might need, and that is a change for us.  We have enjoyed using Apple’s monitors in the past but the too severely restricted selection and high costs are forcing me out of that mode, just like I am also considering abandoning use of Apple professional software (Final Cut Pro Studio and Aperture) before it’s too late. If the Mac Pro goes, so will that software.

I don’t need to buy a new Mac to get USB 3.0.  I’ve already got it on my Mac Pro, though I would like to have it in my MacBook Pro.  In my mind, Thunderbolt is becoming less and less relevant.  The whole trend can be reversed if the market starts responding with lower cost Thunderbolt peripherals, but it is ironic that instead we’ll probably see high prices, right until USB 3 overtakes it and no one cares about Thunderbolt anymore, leaving all those 27 inch Apple Thunderbolt monitors sitting on the shelf, which might be exactly where they belong.