Why Apple hasn’t refreshed the Thunderbolt Display

Apple’s 27-inch Thunderbolt Display is its only external monitor. It’s compatible with all Macs, but it’s increasingly long in the tooth, and it’s due for a refresh. It’s been due for a while, and it’s creating frustration for some Mac owners.

The Thunderbolt Display offers up a finely-calibrated 27-inch IPS screen mated to a single cable that connects it to your Mac’s Thunderbolt port. It also sports four built-in powered USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port, Gigabit Ethernet and a Thunderbolt port for you to daisy-chain another Thunderbolt device, like an external hard disk drive (or even another display).


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A single, thin, Thunderbolt cable connects the display to your Mac, and if you use a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro, a MagSafe cable lets you power your laptop up directly from the display.

So there’s a lot to recommend the Thunderbolt Display to Mac users, outside of the premium $999 price tag.

Unfortunately, the Thunderbolt Display is also showing its age. Apple’s design language for the device is antiquated – it looks a lot like an iMac of the same vintage — 2011 — but iMacs were revamped in 2012 to be dramatically skinnier and lighter. 

In the four years since the Thunderbolt Display was introduced, Apple’s incorporated Thunderbolt 2 across the product line. It’s also upgraded USB 2.0 to USB 3.0 (and, most recently, to USB 3.1), and it’s replaced MagSafe with MagSafe 2. (A MagSafe 2 adapter is included with the Thunderbolt Display).

Thunderbolt 2 allows for 4K resolution (3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160), but the Thunderbolt Display is still stuck with WQHD resolution – 2560 x 1440 pixels.

Making the Thunderbolt Display higher-resolution would sacrifice compatibility with older devices, but my experience is that most people who are buying these things are getting them for the newest Macs — Macs where legacy connectivity isn’t an issue.

Of course, the new hotness in Apple’s product line is 5K resolution, now a standard feature of the 27-inch iMac. 5K resolution over Thunderbolt will have to wait until Thunderbolt 3 makes its debut, but that will narrow the list of compatible Macs even further.

I’m hoping that Apple will release a 4K Thunderbolt 2 display without waiting for the world to get to Thunderbolt 3 — that’d be a nice refresh, and would surely provide a bit more peace of mind to Mac users dropping a thousand bucks on a new display.

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