Earlier this summer, we reported on speculation that Apple would soon retire its ancient 1440p Thunderbolt Display, only to replace it with a 4K or 5K panel. Rumors suggested that the company might even launch a display with its own built-in GPU to handle the workload, possibly based on AMD’s upcoming Polaris architecture. It would’ve been an extremely interesting way to ensure that the panel could be driven by any type of Mac, possibly freeing Apple to focus on reducing device thickness or improving battery life while pushing more horsepower into the monitor, which could more easily handle the heat from a higher-end graphics card.
Now, Apple has confirmed that it will kill the Thunderbolt Display, in a statement provided to TechCrunch — but it doesn’t appear to be planning any type of near-term replacement, either. That would mean the company isn’t selling its own monitor (LCD or CRT) for the first time since the early 1980s, before the first Mac even came out. The company states:
Just how true that is depends on what, exactly, you want to do with the monitor. If you search Amazon for Thunderbolt displays, you’ll see a number of partners offering panels, but very few of them actually feature Thunderbolt ports. Most of the monitors advertised as being Thunderbolt-compatible actually use mini-DisplayPort. While this is technically compatible with using the Thunderbolt port on Mac systems, it only gets you a monitor — not the high-speed pass-through that Apple implemented in its own Thunderbolt display, which also offers gigabit Ethernet and FireWire 800.
Actual replacements for Apple’s own Thunderbolt panel, therefore, are rather hard to find. While this seems unlikely to cause a huge problem for most users, it could be an issue for anyone who bought into the Thunderbolt ecosystem assuming that Apple would continue to manufacture its own monitors.
There’s no word on whether Apple is still working on a replacement for the existing panel. But the fact that the company blithely tells its customers to look at third-party hardware isn’t encouraging. Apple has no qualms when it comes to telling people to wait for future hardware; its current Mac Pro is a late-2013 system with a maximum of 12 CPU cores and two GPUs based on AMD’s oldest GCN 1.0 technology.
It’s still possible that Apple is either quietly building a replacement for its current Thunderbolt Display or planning to build one at a later date. But for now, the company’s cancellation of its Thunderbolt panel leaves Mac owners with limited options, as well as anyone buying a new Mac mini or Mac Pro. You can buy a five-year-old panel now while supplies last, search for a replacement with very limited options assuming you actually need a Thunderbolt-compatible panel, or look to the plethora of USB 3.0-enabled panels currently available in-market today.