Thunderbolts, Lightning, Mini Display? Hello, Apple, Anyone Home?

Apple has gone too cute with their nomenclature for connectors, cables and adapters.  Generally Apple has a good grasp of metaphor based naming systems: Apple, Macintosh, MacBook. Or: Safari, Leopard, Mountain Lion.

Today their metaphorical grasp is slipping.  Gone are common sense and intuition.  Welcome to the storm clouds in Apple’s product nomenclature!

The other day I went into the neighborhood Apple store looking for an adapter to connect our new Airbook to our somewhat older monitor with its VGA ports.  Earlier that day I had checked it out online, knew that I needed a Thunderbolt to VGA adapter.  So I scanned the nearly identical packages of adapters, saw what I needed and made it home in no time at all.  So far, so good.

Then I tried to connect the adapter to the computer.  Wouldn’t fit.  I went back to the package and saw Apple’s mistake — the faint gray lettering said  Lightning to VGA, not Thunderbolt to VGA.   That’s annoying, naming two different adapters with synonyms.  Thunderbolts are lightning. In fact, the icon for Thunderbolt is…lightning!   It’s a rookie mistake.  Block that Metaphor!

So I went back to the store to exchange Lightning for Thunderbolt.  Instead, I came across the puzzle below.  I was looking for the one on the left, Thunderbolt to VGA.  All I could find was the one on the right, Mini DisplayPort to VGA.  What, exactly, is different between these two ports?  Certainly the names are different.  The icons are different.  But somehow…

MiniDisplay

 

Yes, you are right, the shapes of the two ports are identical.

It’s not an optical illusion.  You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t ask, but the Thunderbolt port is identical to the Mini DisplayPort.  You cannot buy a Thunderbolt to VGA adapter because it is called Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter.  The Apple store employee explained this can only be discovered by close reading  of the small mouse-size type in faint gray on the side of the box.

So here is what I learned about their mixed metaphors:

Thunderbolts are lightning in the real world.  In Apple World Thunderbolts are not Lightning… even though the Thunderbolt icon is…Lightning.

Thunderbolts and Mini DisplayPorts are different in the real world.  In Apple World they are identical but given two different names.

iCloud. U lightning. They Thunderbolt. She Mini DisplayPort. We all confused by this nomenclature.

And I’m left wondering what ever happened to FireWire?

 

 

 

2 Responses to “Thunderbolts, Lightning, Mini Display? Hello, Apple, Anyone Home?”


  1. 1 Steven Laurel October 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Well said…that clears it up for me. I think.

  2. 2 orbatos April 26, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    There is a very clear, if somewhat nonsensical reason for the terminology.

    Display port (mini or otherwise) is a modern video connection related to HDMI that does not support other devices.

    Apple’s “thunderbolt” is a Intel product which combines the display port video connector with an input/output processor so that it may be used for other things than just video. Doing so of course requires compatible devices.


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