It’s been true for way too long now that Apple’s Thunderbolt Display is due for a comprehensive upgrade. Apple’s $999 27-inch display has a dated design and has much lower resolution than the Retina 5K iMac for $800 more. For those reasons and more, it’s been on everyone’s Do Not Buy list for quite some time, but that may be about to change.
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Much like the Mac Pro before it, Mac users often hope for an all-new Thunderbolt Display (or something different but better) to be announced at WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference in San Francisco. While an upgraded Thunderbolt Display hasn’t been widely expected, MacRumors noticed that Thunderbolt Display inventory is pretty hit or miss across several Apple Stores.
Thunderbolt Display can still be delivered overnight when bought through Apple’s online store, but a check at nearby Apple Stores showed that one out of every three locations had zero inventory. We’ve seen stock fluctuation in the past way before a product replacement — most recently the Apple TV — so it’s possible the inevitable Thunderbolt Display replacement could be planned for the fall and not Apple’s keynote in two weeks. But there are plenty of reasons to expect something new in Thunderbolt Display’s place at any point.
For starters, the Thunderbolt Display is really old. In first debuted five years ago which is a century in the technology world, replacing the Apple Cinema Display.
Since the 27-inch Thunderbolt Display was introduced, Apple has changed the connector on its MacBooks from MagSafe to MagSafe 2 so the box has to ship with a $10 adapter to work with modern notebooks. It’s not exactly elegant.
It’s not just MagSafe 2 anymore either. Apple’s 12-inch MacBook with Retina display totally drops MagSafe in favor of a single USB-C port for charging and data transfer. Thunderbolt Displays don’t feature USB-C ports or connectors, and this is what Apple says about those new MacBooks: The Apple Thunderbolt Display is not compatible with MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2015) and later.
And if there’s no other reason that Apple should update the Thunderbolt Display, it could still use a slight facelift. Apple introduced redesigned iMacs four years ago but never changed the Thunderbolt Display design. That means you can get a much sleeker display when you pack a whole computer inside than if you just buy the display by itself.
Finally, there’s also the whole display resolution thing. iMacs ship in 4K and 5K Retina resolutions, while the $1000 Thunderbolt Display is limited to what Apple calls “an astonishing 2560-by-1440 resolution.” So when Apple launched the upgraded Mac Pro and wanted to show off 4K display support, it had to use third-party monitors in its retail stores.
There’s obviously a lot more Apple could do to upgrade the Thunderbolt Display or replace it with something else, but what would you want to see? I’m personally looking forward to a big price drop on the current one (or a market of reasonably priced used Thunderbolt Displays to pop up). 9to5Mac’s Jeff Benjamin recently discussed the reasons MacBook Pro owners may want a 4K display, and Jordan put several 4K and UHD monitors through the ringer here.