Is this summer the real debutante ball for Thunderbolt?

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Thunderbolt, Intel’s new high speed data transfer tech, has arrived, but it’s been on the market now since February, and we’ve heard a lot of noise, but have yet to see it really do much in the way of changing how we use our Macs. Signs indicate that this summer could be the time we do see that happen.

A new report from CNET claims that Apple will be upgrading its Mac Pro and Mac mini computers with the new high-speed I/O Thunderbolt port, and with Sandy Bridge processors. Similar upgrades have already been launched for the MacBook Pro and iMac lines, and one is rumored to be in the works for the MacBook Air, too. If these reports are accurate, all updates are expected to arrive by the end of summer at the latest, which would make Thunderbolt nearly ubiquitous on new Macs, with the exception of the basic MacBook.

Thunderbolt has lots of promise, but there’s a problem: there aren’t really any peripherals out there that use it yet. Apple seems poised to fix that, however, as a recent report by MacRumors suggests that we’ll see a host of Thunderbolt peripherals arrive alongside Apple’s Final Cut Pro X video editing application sometime this week. Apple could well use Final Cut Pro to jumpstart Thunderbolt by showing video pros just how much faster their workflows could be with super high speed data transfers.

But pro Thunderbolt hardware and peripherals with mass market appeal are two very different things. Cost will be a factor with the first wave of Thunderbolt hardware, but if Apple is aiming to have Thunderbolt present across its Mac lineup by summer’s end, I’d argue that we’ll see the first line of peripherals aimed at the average user by fall, too. Count on early entrants to consist mainly of adapters for use with older, more established tech. Adapters have the advantage of being cheap, and working with kit that buyers already have.

Thunderbolt can easily be adapted to work with other high-speed technologies like USB 3.0, and eSATA. Not only that, but it should be easy to make hubs that include these technologies along with older standards like FireWire and USB for docking solutions that truly cover all the bases. Adapters will make Thunderbolt a boon to consumers and accessory-makers alike long before dedicated Thunderbolt devices make the move from professional to consumer levels of affordability.

The real ‘headline’ updates of recent Macs have been Sandy Bridge and Thunderbolt. Improved processors is a great addition, but Thunderbolt is the new feature that’s easier for most consumers to grasp. If Apple does get it on all shipping Macs by the end of the summer, we’ll see an accompanying tidal wave of third-party accessories that should help Thunderbolt prove its usefulness by the time fall rolls around.

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