Patent reveals Thunderbolt might be headed to iOS devices

A patent application filed by Apple at the end of June 2011 and published just Thursday indicates that the company may be planning to implement Thunderbolt, Intel's new cable technology with increased power and data transfer capabilities, in iPhones, iPods and iPads.

The cable technology was not specifically named in the patent, but Patently Apple delved deep into the details and discovered strong evidence that the new proposed cable is indeed Thunderbolt technology. Among the many telling details is the fact that the patent describes a proposed cable that could support DisplayPort and PCI Express, which are the two technologies that come bundled together in the Thunderbolt architecture.

Thunderbolt cables would allow for faster transfer speeds to iOS devices than the current standard of USB 2.0, and could also potentially charge the devices in a shorter amount of time due to the higher-voltage capabilities of Thunderbolt devices.

Though gadget historians will recall that the original iPod utilized only FireWire, another cable technology that Apple contributed to the development of, fifth-generation iPods and all iOS devices since then have used only USB cables for data transfer. Apple does have a vested interest in seeing Thunderbolt succeed as the technology was developed by Intel with technical collaboration from Apple, and was commercially introduced on the refreshed MacBook Pro lineup of February 2011. Apple has since added Thunderbolt to its entire line of computers except for the Mac Pro desktop tower, which has not been updated since the debut of Thunderbolt.

USB fans might not have too much to worry about, however, as Apple also filed a patent for a dock connector that would combine both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 technologies. That patent was discovered last April by AppleInsider.

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31 Comments

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The only way Thunderbolt will be beneficial for an iDevice, Apple will also have to install a faster drive. It doesn't matter how fast the device can receive the info if its going to get caught in trafiic because you have to wait for the drive to write the data.

This is why when you use SCSI, you need to use faster drives. The faster the drive can spin, the faster in can write data on a single pass. Even tho falsh doesn't have working parts, it can still only write data at a certain speed. And the drives Apple use are way to slow.

I have a 66GB iPhone 4S and I bought a USB flash drive with faster NAND inside. I used an application that allows me to copy files directly to any iDevice without using iTunes. I copied the files on both the device and the USB using Windows Explorer.A drive I piad $75 for was way faster than the drive inside my iDevice. It copied 50GB worth of data in almost 1/2 the time.

I am trying to understand, for anything less than professional use, what is Thunderbolt good for? Its designed to move a mass amount of data. 50GB of music and videos isnt a mass amount of data and can be hamdled by USB 3.0 or even 2.0 just fine.

If the drives accepting that data can't handle how fasts it coming, then you are going to get a bottleneck anyways. Unless you are using a drive array where the controllers are design to cache all that data coming so fast and unless you spend an aweful lot of money, TB is just as useless as SCSI was. Its design mkaes using any device with it, expensive.

Yes having TB will make moving files to your iDevice a lil faster vs USB, but you won't be hitting full TB throttle. The speeds may only be slightly as fast as USB3.0 gives you.

htcz said,
Would this work in the EU? All cell phones MUST have a microUSB connector for a charger.

An iPhone doesn't, and I don't know how they get away with it!

The lack of imagination and understanding by people on here is sometimes staggering, understand thunderbolt please - then you'll not bother with the 'use USB 3.0 instead' argument. Why? Because they are different techs for different needs, Thunderbolt is more of an internal BUS extention along with video output (displayport). A single thunderbolt port makes so much sense, faster charging, faster data transfer, video output - connect to a dock (this applies to any device with thunderbolt) and thats where all your external connnectors sit (multiple usb, displayport, ethernet, WiFi, etc.).

USB makes more sense for keyboards, mice, webcams, printers, scanners, usb memory sticks etc. All relatively low bandwidth devices (bandwidth can spike on a few of the examples there, but thats what USB deals with best anyway - spikes rather than constant flow).

Thunderbolt makes more sense for external hard disks, disk arrays, docks (with video out via display port), external BUS extention devices (sound cards, video cards, network cards etc - its a PCIe bus extention after all) - all the above benefit from and some rely on very low latency and high bandwidth connectivity - and all could be done with one simple connector into your computer.

Thunderbolt is currently 10Gbps, but will be a lot faster soon - it does not have to compete directly with USB 3.0. We can and should have both ports.

duddit2 said,
The lack of imagination and understanding by people on here is sometimes staggering, understand thunderbolt please - then you'll not bother with the 'use USB 3.0 instead' argument. Why? Because they are different techs for different needs, Thunderbolt is more of an internal BUS extention along with video output (displayport). A single thunderbolt port makes so much sense, faster charging, faster data transfer, video output - connect to a dock (this applies to any device with thunderbolt) and thats where all your external connnectors sit (multiple usb, displayport, ethernet, WiFi, etc.).

USB makes more sense for keyboards, mice, webcams, printers, scanners, usb memory sticks etc. All relatively low bandwidth devices (bandwidth can spike on a few of the examples there, but thats what USB deals with best anyway - spikes rather than constant flow).

Thunderbolt makes more sense for external hard disks, disk arrays, docks (with video out via display port), external BUS extention devices (sound cards, video cards, network cards etc - its a PCIe bus extention after all) - all the above benefit from and some rely on very low latency and high bandwidth connectivity - and all could be done with one simple connector into your computer.

Thunderbolt is currently 10Gbps, but will be a lot faster soon - it does not have to compete directly with USB 3.0. We can and should have both ports.

There is not enough processing power to transfer at that speed. If it can only go a fraction of the wireless N speeds then this will not change anything. Maybe it will be a year or 2 from now before phones will benefit from this. Just don't expect it in the iPhone 5.....Maybe it will be in the 5s.

Haven't Apple for all time only provided a proprietry connector on the idevices? Don't see this changing since they can charge what they want for every accessory needed.

trip21 said,
Haven't Apple for all time only provided a proprietry connector on the idevices? Don't see this changing since they can charge what they want for every accessory needed.

Yeah, they currently use USB2.0 with a proprietry connector so will most likely be the same with Thunderbolt.

Edited by Xerxes, Jan 6 2012, 7:29am :

Interesting stuff!

Especially excited by the part:

could also potentially charge the devices in a shorter amount of time due to the higher-voltage capabilities of Thunderbolt devices

Or they could just be like every other manufacture and adopt the USB 3.0 standard... No patents, cheaper manufacturing process, cheaper for consumers.

Because Thunderbolt is a nicer tech?

It's twice as fast as USB3 and offers more functionality (It's an extension of the PCI-E bus), and other manufacturers are starting to use it (waiting on Intel, it's their tech)

The_Decryptor said,
Because Thunderbolt is a nicer tech?

It's twice as fast as USB3 and offers more functionality (It's an extension of the PCI-E bus), and other manufacturers are starting to use it (waiting on Intel, it's their tech)

It costs a LOT. For a smartphone it's a waste of money. They can't transfer anywhere near the speed of USB 3.0, so why waste money on thunderbolt?

mrp04 said,

It costs a LOT. For a smartphone it's a waste of money. They can't transfer anywhere near the speed of USB 3.0, so why waste money on thunderbolt?

It won't be long before we have 128GB of flash in cell phones at that point it makes a lot of sense to have speedier connection. Your right now they don't make use of the speed. But I suspect in the coming years they will.

The connector looks to be Cat6a with 4 extra pins, ground, power and 2 legacy signalling cables. Maybe they want to remove the USB host and move to the standardized IP world with the power to charge/power small devices in the standard also.

To me this isn't that interesting at all. It's 10gig Cat6a cable/speed plus power. I'm sure soon enough POE 10Gig will come out with just as good charging (48v) and Apple with be left with another pointless propriety plug they use to rip their customers off with. While every other company in the world uses standard Cat6a.

Thunderbolt has nothing to do with Cat6, and it isn't an Apple proprietary tech either. The only thing you got right was the name.

mrp04 said,

It costs a LOT. For a smartphone it's a waste of money. They can't transfer anywhere near the speed of USB 3.0, so why waste money on thunderbolt?

USB 1 cost a lot more than serial ports, but it still caught on. It turns out costs go down over time as production goes up.

mrp04 said,

It costs a LOT. For a smartphone it's a waste of money. They can't transfer anywhere near the speed of USB 3.0, so why waste money on thunderbolt?

It's not only about transferring data. It's about watching 1080p videos on big screens, transferring sound, battery charging, among others.

The_Decryptor said,
Because Thunderbolt is a nicer tech?

It's twice as fast as USB3 and offers more functionality (It's an extension of the PCI-E bus), and other manufacturers are starting to use it (waiting on Intel, it's their tech)

Yup having a direct connection to the PCI-E bus and by-passing your OS security is great... oh wait?

I don't mind new ideas and implementation its just when the new ideas become propitiatory or locked down.

I didn't know thunderbolt had a power rail? Just read up on it, up to 10W, nice!

Auzeras said,
I don't mind new ideas and implementation its just when the new ideas become propitiatory or locked down.

I didn't know thunderbolt had a power rail? Just read up on it, up to 10W, nice!

Thunderbolt is not proprietary. It is not mainstream yet either.

Wombatt said,
Great, it's going to be like Firewire all over again.

Firewire was pretty awesome. It's still better than USB2. It just never got popular enough.

lunarworks said,

Firewire was pretty awesome. It's still better than USB2. It just never got popular enough.

I believe that's his point.

Raa said,

When transferring a gig of music? Hardly.


You aren't thinking like a salesman.

Who cares if it only takes a few seconds to transfer a gig or two? But if it only took ONE second? Great marketing material! Dock your iPad and have near-instant synchronization of data ("touch and go"). That's the goal, and the first company to show it happening will hopefully not throw away the commercial opportunity.

thatguyandrew1992 said,

USB 2.0 is WAYYY to slow, why even try to argue it????

Just use 1.1 For a while, then 2.0 seems zippy!