One question that I've seen crop up repeatedly is, where are all the PCs and devices with Thunderbolt ports?
Even with Apple's strong promotional support of the technology, there have been fewer devices than people anticipated, and they have taken longer to materialize than many of us would have liked.
Mass adoption may have been delayed by Apple's defacto year of exlusivity for use on computers, but that's not the whole story.
The Hold Up
ARS Technica just posted a new article that discusses what's been holding Thunderbolt up. The post suggests that the biggest factor behind the relatively slow rollout has been Intel's licensing and certification process.
The author spoke with a number of different vendors and manufacturers who indicated that Intel has been "cherry picking which vendors it worked with". While Intel has denied this in the past, at CES, Jason Ziller, the Director of Thunderbolt Marketing and Planning at Intel, told Ars that it:
"worked closely" with vendors it felt could "offer the best products" and could meet its stringent "certification requirements."
According to Ars, it looks as if Intel gave priority to selected vendors because of its own limited resources to certify and license new products.
Ziller noted that we will see a number of new products, as Intel opens up its licensing to a wider variety of vendors. A new generation of lower-cost chipsets, more interest among OEMs, and better OS support from Macs and PCs will hopefully help pave the way for new products in 2013.
Hopefully this isn't too little too late.
The Problem With Being a Niche Product
The relatively slow rollout of Thunderbolt peripherals has left room for USB 3.0 to gain significant momentum. Yes, I am aware that the two interfaces aren't even close substitutes for video professionals, and that USB doesn't offer the speed or flexibility that Thunderbolt currently offers.
But, I think we are at the point where Thunderbolt is at risk of being marginalized as a niche interface if a wider array of devices don't start shipping soon. 2013 will be the year where it has to breakout and ship in much greater volumes or risk becoming another Firewire.
Why should any of us care if Thunderbolt is a niche product? Well for starters, Intel needs to see strong enough adoption to justify further development of the technology. The roadmap that promises to boost speeds from 10Gbps to 100Gbps over optical cabling by the end of the decade will take significant development before it is realized.
Besides, Thunderbolt provides a level of expandability that has heretofore been unavailable on anything but big iron desktops, and this is really what makes it possible for a growing number of people to use an iMac or laptop as their primary edit machine. As major beneficiaries of Thunderbolt's speed, video professionals should really want the port to see the broadest possible adoption in order to push the technology down the cost curve.
Recently released devices like the AJA T-Tap (reviewed here), the AJA Io XT and Blackmagic UltraStudio 3D (both reviewed here), and a variety of enclosures (covered here) highlight what life outside the tower can look like. Here's to looking for more in 2013.