Unfortunately, Apple’s past and present is littered with a number of technologies that just never became mainstream. Apple may have pushed USB to the masses in the original iMac of 1998, but ask nearly any PC user to describe FireWire or Thunderbolt and you’ll get blank stares. Apple bets different, too.
On Being Different
To be fair to Apple’s promotion of two mostly lost technologies, FireWire and Thunderbolt respectively, both are advanced and performed beyond the standard of the day.
FireWire 400 and 800 ran rings around USB 1.x and USB 2.x, respectively, easily delivering real world transfer speeds beyond the USB standards.
The battle in the marketplace, though, was Betamax and VHS déjà vu all over again. USB was cheaper and fast enough, despite a host of performance and reliability issues.
Thunderbolt, itself a technology from Intel, appears to be heading down a similar path toward niche status as a footnote to technology oblivion.
Take a look at all the clumsy USB and FireWire ports and connectors and you’ll see why Intel thought Thunderbolt (Apple’s name for the technology) was the future.
Small. Light. Fast.
Just like FireWire, Thunderbolt may be superior in specifications and real world performance, but for the great unwashed masses of PC users, USB 3.x is fast enough, cheaper, and everyone already knows the name.
Clearly, Apple likes to think different, and differentiation is a key element of product marketing. Even the lowly Mac mini sports the latest in FireWire and Thunderbolt connectors (and four USB 3 ports and a single HDMI port) which sets it apart from lesser powered PC rivals.
Apple isn’t afraid to bet big on technology that performs better than the industry standards, but Apple alone isn’t influential enough to make the best become the standard.