Inventory shortages may herald rebirth of Apple’s aging Thunderbolt Display

Apple’s Thunderbolt Display, first introduced in the summer of 2011, may be getting a refresh at WWDC, if inventory shortages at retail stores are any indication.

Just try getting one at your local Apple store — dozens of locations near me are “ship to store” only, suggesting (as is often the case before a refresh) that stock has not been replenished or even, as a MacRumors source has it, sent back to the warehouse.

The 2560×1536 display was a nice, if expensive, option when it made its debut, and five years later… well, now it’s just expensive. Needless to say it is no longer a recommended product — but the good news is that a replacement may be on the way.

It would, of course, be the panel from the (again) nice, if expensive, 5K iMac Apple put out in late 2014. Thinner, higher resolution, better color, modern ports  — all valuable things in a monitor. The problem is that few devices can process the 5K resolution — that’s four times the pixels found in a MacBook Pro — and push it over the Thunderbolt interface. The ones that can require two cables to do so, and it’s hard to imagine Apple allowing that to be the standard connection.

Updates to the DisplayPort protocol might allow it, but it probably won’t happen in time for WWDC and any hardware that could reasonably be expected to be announced there. It’s hard to think of a workable alternative — a combination of wireless and wired display driving is conceivable, but only just. Apple has never shied away from leaving standards behind, however, so something new and strange may in fact be on the horizon.

My guess is we’ll find out more at WWDC, since a big new display and potentially a new method of driving it would be something on which developers will want a heads up. But it also depends on the company’s ability to get the necessary hardware lined up by then.

We’ll know one way or the other on June 13. Watch for our live coverage two weeks from now.