No PCI Express architecture means no Thunderbolt for iPhone, iPad?

No PCI Express architecture means no Thunderbolt for iPhone, iPad?

Intel's new 10Gbps Thunderbolt I/O system, used by Apple in their MacBook Pro update yesterday, uses PCI Express and Mini DisplayPort technologies... neither of which it turns out are ideal candidates for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. Macworld elaborates:

Thunderbolt relies on PCI Express, the architecture that underpins Macs and most PCs. But iOS devices don’t use a PCI Express architecture, which would presumably make it difficult to simply stick a Thunderbolt port on an iPhone. Plus the dock-connector port on iOS devices provides quite a bit of additional functionality—it’s got 30 connection pins for a reason, after all. Finally, it’s not clear what benefits Thunderbolt would provide that the dock-connector port is missing. We suspect it’s far more likely that Apple will eventually sell an optional Thunderbolt-to-dock-connector cable for charging and syncing.

The benefit would be what we discussed on iPhone Live on Wednesday -- really fast transfer of files like when you need to update your software, restore your backups and re-sync lots of big apps like games and navigation with on-board maps. Is that a common enough situation where Thunderbolt would make sense for future iOS devices? Or is USB fast enough for the big stuff and everything else is heading wireless anyway?


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Senior Editor at iMore and a practicing therapist specializing in stress and anxiety. She speaks everywhere from conferences to corporations, co-host of Vector, Review, and Isometric podcasts, and should be followed on Twitter @Georgia_Dow.

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No PCI Express architecture means no Thunderbolt for iPhone, iPad?


Maybe I'm not getting this whole thunderbolt thing. But why would Apple need to add a thunderbolt port to the iPhone? Why couldn't they just replace the USB/dock connector cable with a thunderbolt/dock connector cable?
It they can't then I assume the dock connector isn't fast enough being metal connections...why would I care about thunderbolt then?

USB 3.0 is effectively a competitor to Thunderbolt. Apple and Intel are hoping people will skip past USB 3.0 and go straight to Thunderbolt, it is theoretically twice as fast after all.

Intel has a bit of NIH syndrome as I'm sure they'd prefer the home team protocol over USB 3. So, conspiracy theory or not, Intel does not support USB 3 in any of the chipsets yet. Maybe later this year. Maybe in 2012.
Since Intel doesn't have USB 3 support in their chipsets, Apple is highly unlikely to go out of its way to put a non home team protocol either.
Check back again in 2012.

It's not about the metal connections - Thunderbolt is a copper connection after all. The problem is what's sitting in the iPhone next to the dock connector - it's a USB 2.0 controller. You can put whatever cable between the iPhone and a computer you want, but at the end of the day, for now the cable will always connect to USB 2.0 hardware and require the same speed-limited USB 2.0 protocol

I think apple will figure out how to do the music and photos (which takes up most of my memeory on my phone) wirelessly. They always try to think of new ways to save space and time. So I'm sure they'll do something with the mobile me to connect you to that stuff so you don't have to store it on your phone. Which will help with the syncing process

This was true for last year's A4, but who knows what Apple's new SoC will offer. Competitors have already announced SoCs with PCIe and HDMI/Displayport.

Thunderbolt right now is a higher end technology, like firewire. PCs have to start adopting it before it's huge in iPhones. I doubt iPhone 5 will have it because market penetration for Thunderbolt will be miniscule by this summer. Maybe iPhone 6. And you'll still need a USB option for a long time, I don't plan on getting a new mac for a few years now, and Thunderbolt is only available on MacBooks (I'm an iMac fan myself).

really fast transfer of files

Are you sure that USB is the bottleneck? I haven't looked into the numbers but it's quite possible that the write and sector-erase times of the flash chip are what take the most time in when transferring many/large files.

No, to the first question. Yes, to the second. Thunderbolt is not exciting news. Cloud syncing is what we want to hear about.

I'd say the bigger question than whether syncing of large files is a frequent enough situation is whether the frustration of waiting for your stuff to sync over is significant enough. For me, that's a resounding "yes". I can't tell you how many times I've sat at my computer yelling, "JUST GO ALREADY!!!" waiting for my iPhone to sync a damn app.
Thunderbolt or bust!

I haven't plugged my iPhone or iPad in to my computer in over a month. Everything is through the cloud or downloaded directly to the device.

The biggest benefit from Thunderbolt is that it'll charge the iPad about 2 to 3 times as fast as USB would.
For faster syncing to be beneficial or better than USB 2 today, and this would apply to USB 3 too, the lowest bandwidth device in the synching chain (computer storage, I/O, iOS device storage) has to be faster than in computers today.
So, you'll need a faster hard drive or an SSD, said improved I/O, and faster storage on the iOS device; and also highly likely, improved synching software. We need all of this. Also, we need more storage too. 64 GB (iPhone) and 128 GB iOS (iPod touch and iPad) devices will hopefully come this year.
If the drivers are there, iOS devices could output 720p content onto HD TVs or external monitors.
The dream scenario is like the Atrix 4G laptop dock. A dock adaptor could be made with USB, Bluetooth, Firewire, DisplayPort outputs, resulting in one docking an iOS device and it becoming a personal computer. iOS would have to be revved to make more usable in such a scenario though.

Syncing an iPhone can be painfully slow. Anything to make it faster would make me sync more often. If thunderbolt is the answer, apple- please do it.

Why would Thunderbolt show up on non-Intel hardware? Apple may have collaborated with Intel to get Light Peak on the Macbook pro first, but I don't think that extends to letting Apple put the port on an ARM based device.

Silly Sill Stuff, the Ipad/ipod looks to a computer as a disk today on USB. One of Thuderbolt's design criteria was to work as a very high speed disk connection, and the chips that Intel appear to be making enable relatively inexpensive Thunderbolt external disks (and arrays etc). It also is designed to be in camera's etc. As such adding it to an iPad or iPod should be easy, and less expensive than Firewire (which was on the original iPods).
Intel will do anything to get chips into ipads and iPods, so they will be aggressive in pricing and designing chips for Apple.
And NIH regarding USB and intel is wrong as Intel is the originator of USB.

I would counterpoint on the NIH. USB is controlled by a standards body of which Intel is a contributor. Intel solely owns Thunderbolt I/O. Hence home team.
If Intel wants TB to be popular, they will have to submit it to a standards body with licensing worked out.

Forget investing in tethered transfers. iOS needs to go wireless. It is behind the curve here. No...MobileMe doesn't count. :)
It would be a great addition but I bet wireless sync would make iOS lovers go bananas!

From what I've heard Thunderbolt is supposed to be backward compatible with USB3 such that you just need a go between cable to connect a USB device to a Tunderbolt port and run at that device's maximum supported USB type. Whether or not that's true I'm not sure because no one has given real verification of it. If it is true that would make putting USB3 into the new iPhone/iPad/iTouch a real benefit to increase transfer speeds on both Macs (assuming Thunderbolt spreads to all refreshes) and PCs.

It isn't backward compatible as it stands. You need to have the a TB ASIC from Intel and essentially a PCIe-USB chipset. So, a company can create a TB hub with USB ports on in which one can plug in a USB device. There won't be a TB-to-USB3 adaptor cable, unless the aforementioned chips are there in the cable.
It's doubtful that TB mice or keyboards or any kind of low bandwidth I/O would be made TB compatible.

Please put me in the "not interested in having to stream all my content to my iPhone" camp. Do any of you geniuses realize what will happen to your cellular data amounts if everytime you want to listen to the new Brittney Spears song you have to stream it over 3G/LTE? I know, you have "unlimited" data now. Great! Two quick points: 1. Not everyone has "unlimited" data. 2. You may not be able to keep your "unlimited" data forever.
That said, wireless sync over my local network at home... Sign my dimwitted rear end up.
In short, screw all this "the cloud I awesome" bullcrap.

A major concern is data. Apple is increasing the amount of space their mobile devices. Currently, iPhones max out at 32GB, iPod Touch and iPads Max out at 64GB , and Classic is at 160GB. If Apple goes wireless with current Wi-Fi 802.11n bit rate, syncing will be slower than if you did it wired over USB. Even if we get the option to do so people aren't going to use Wi-Fi it sync unless their lazy and want to take longer to transfer a 1GB movie. I see Apple finding their way to allow their iOS devices to take advantage of TB by incorporating PCI-e into the iOS architecture, maybe the A5 will be a combination of the original and the PCI-e. They'll also be able to the phone faster as well. Then we may also be able to do Video out with TB , skipping HDMI as a audio/video out source. But then the only problem is to get a TB to HDMI adapter unless TB becomes a standard for televisions as well. The other day I said that Apple may see HDMI as dead since they haven't yet gave us 30-pin to HDMI yet. The advantage of TB over HDMI is Power and data is so they may actually end up skipping HDMI has a video out source. Now, suppose iPhones reach 64GB and iPads/iPodT reach 128GB , we will likely sync faster than we do now over USB with smaller capacities. Imagine syncing a 128GB of data to a iPad over Wi-Fi at less than 480MBps USB 2.0 speeds when you can do it at 10GBps. I don't see any disadvantages of syncing wired vs wireless other than superficial reasons.

While I don't disagree with tou completely, I don't think speed vs file size would be that big an issue over wifi. With a slight change in behavior, you could easily set the sync to happen overnight. That, setting preprogrammed sync times, would be an awesome idea for a setting (are you listening apple?) Rarely, do I need to on the spur of the moment add a large file to my iPhone, and in those cases I'd just plug into the computer and sync over copper.

  1. Apple can make a Thunderbolt to iPod Connector adapter. Simple.
  2. USB 3.0 connectors are different from USB 2.0 connectors - forcing you to get new cables connectors. You might as well get Thunderbolt connectors since Thunderbolt peripherals are faster and are supported by Intel and Apple.
  3. Eventually, Apple can incorporate Thunderbolt into the iPhone, iPad, iPods also. This is just the start.

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