Partners Unsure Of Apple's Future In Monitor Business After Company Axes Thunderbolt Display

After Apple said it would discontinue its Thunderbolt Display -- the company’s 27-inch, LED-backlit monitor -- partners said they don't know exactly what the discontinuation means.

Apple said last week that it's cutting the monitor, but partners wondered if that means the company is snuffing out its high-resolution external display business entirely, launching a new lineup with 5K resolution in a future release, or adding new features to existing mobile products, like the MacBook.

"I think that Apple must have had plans to discontinue the old Thunderbolt display when the new hardware became available, but the new hardware apparently missed the deadline," said Jeff Dettloff, president and CEO of Providence Consulting, a Lansing, Mich.-based Apple partner recognized on CRN's 2014 Next-Gen 250 list. "Since they don't ... want to start a new production run of the old hardware, it leaves users without a good [Apple] option, other than third-party monitors."

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In addition to a 2,560-by-1,440 resolution, Apple's display also features USB ports, an Ethernet port and a charging cord for connected MacBook Airs or MacBook Pros. The company's monitor, though popular, has been criticized for its hefty $999 price tag, partner executives said.

An Apple spokesperson said that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company will continue selling the Thunderbolt display through partners while supplies last.

"We're discontinuing the Apple Thunderbolt Display," said the spokesperson in a statement. "It will be available through, Apple's retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last. There are a number of great third-party options available for Mac users."

Michael Oh, chief technology officer and founder of TSP, a Boston-based Apple partner, speculated that Apple's killing of its monitor means that the company could be adding in new features to its MacBook Pro lineup -- including display support for 4K and 5K displays, and Thunderbolt 3 compatibility.

"I think that the discontinuation of this monitor is likely a sign that Apple is moving off of the Thunderbolt/DisplayPort physical port onto something new, probably in anticipation for the new MacBook Pros to be using Thunderbolt 3 over a USB-C cable," he said. "That will open up the possibility of a single connector for high-bandwidth I/O, charging and display support for 4K/5K displays."

While new features for the MacBook could be exciting for enterprises, partners execs like Dettloff say it is frustrating for potential customers to be left in the dark about whether Apple will continue producing new monitors or if they should instead switch to a third-party vendor like Samsung for monitors.

"It is always frustrating whenever there is a product update/replacement and the new device is not available," he said. "And it is especially frustrating with Apple, because they don't announce what the new device will be, let alone when it will be available."