Thunderbolt is a hit!

Thunderbolt isn't just a faster USB - and Mac buyers see that. I'm calling it: despite the sparse product offering Thunderbolt is a hit.

Shipping times at the Apple online store show that Thunderbolt is a hit with Mac buyers. And that's with almost no Thunderbolt products available. Expect great things when many more Thunderbolt peripherals start shipping in the next 6 months.

Shipping estimates The Thunderbolt peripherals for sale from Apple are limited to the Thunderbolt Display - a 27" display with built-in Thunderbolt USB/FireWire adapter - and the Promise Pegasus arrays. Both are available as standalone options and as system add-ons.

As system add-ons - purchased with a new MacBook Pro or MacBook Air - they're available immediately. But as standalone items they have much longer lead times: 2-3 weeks for the Thunderbolt Display and 3-5 weeks for the Thunderbolt storage arrays.

And this means what? Several things:

  • Ship times for the individual products wouldn't be so long if there weren't a lot of folks buying the Thunderbolt products with their new system.
  • The Thunderbolt Display is not as popular - or Apple forecasts better than Promise - but people like the Thunderbolt expansion it offers. The non-Thunderbolt 27" LED Cinema display ships with 24 hours.
  • The Pegasus Thunderbolt arrays are popular: every other storage array the Apple Store sells is available within 24 hours.
  • The Pegasus Thunderbolt arrays are popular despite costing roughly 50% more than the slower, non-Thunderbolt arrays. Performance sells!

The Storage Bits take HP's decision to leave the PC market reflects both a maturing market and the inability of PC makers to earn decent margins on boring me-too products. Apple owns the high-end, high-margin PC business, while taking share from the Wintel notebook market with the iPad.

With the advent of the Mac Thunderbolt-everywhere strategy Apple is now differentiating the Mac and the iPad based on I/O. The iPad is the new MacBook.

USB 3.0 peripherals are proliferating at premiums that range from almost nothing to 100% over USB 2 products. USB 3.0's success is assured due to price and bandwidth.

Thunderbolt meets a different need: it extends a system's PCIe bus outside the box. What does this mean?

The Mac Pro tower design - and Wintel towers as well - have been the only systems that offer user-accessible bus access, until Thunderbolt. Now a skinny little notebook or a mini form factor box can offer what only towers had before.

Which means that I/O oriented apps - those with large storage capacities or specialized I/O - don't need to be run on bulky towers. Any Thunderbolt notebook can do the job.

Which leaves computationally intensive jobs to tower configurations that can support the memory, CPU cores, GPUs and cooling needed for simulation, transcoding and rendering. Call it consumer High Performance Computing.

Apple's industrial designers know the possibilities. I trust they're designing great products that will exploit Thunderbolt to the max.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Saddened to see Steve Jobs resign as CEO, but confident that a great design company - like Porsche, Herman Miller and Apple - can maintain their mojo for many decades through many CEOs. The key is that great designers want to work at great design companies.