How Thunderbolt could power up the iPad

How Thunderbolt could power up the iPad
Could your next MacBook be an iPad?

Whenever Apple announces anything new the press just loves to moan about something, so let's get the "boo sucks" bit out of the way first: 59p for FaceTime? Did I miss something and Apple's suddenly skint?

On a happier note, though: how good do those new MacBook Pros look?

I'm writing this on an MBP, one of the early Core 2 Duo jobs, and while I think my Mac's a pretty good-looking beast the new Pros have done to it what it did to my trusty Powerbook G4: made it look like a relic from an earlier, chunkier age.

But there's more to the new MacBook Pros than a mere speed bump, improved battery life and a slightly different case.

The big news is Thunderbolt, Intel's name for Light Peak technology that doesn't have the "light" bit yet - the promised fibre-optic connections are currently copper. But even on dull old copper Apple's right when it calls the technology the fastest, most versatile I/O ever in a notebook: it makes USB 2.0 look like two tin cans connected with a bit of string, and gives the much-hyped USB 3.0 a good kicking to boot.

Speed aside, there are two good things about Light Peak: one, it supports daisy-chaining, so you don't have to muck about with hubs or - like me - constantly plug and unplug things from your computer whenever you want to do anything.

And two, it's multi-protocol, so you can connect a whole bunch of different things at once: a display, an external hard disk or RAID array, a video capture box... whatever you fancy.

If Thunderbolt lives up to its potential, the MacBook Pro could be the central part of some serious computing power, with Thunderbolt essentially making it the core of a much more powerful computing set-up.

And then there's Lion.

The Lion King?

OS X 10.7 Lion is designed to bring iPad ideas "back to the Mac", with Launchpad offering iPad-style program integration and launching, OS X apps getting system-wide full-screen support for a more immersive experience, more gesture support and the not-inspired-by-DropBox-honest-guv AirDrop. OS X is getting simpler and friendlier, with features such as Auto Save, Resume and Versions taking more of the grind out of everyday tasks.

It's very iPad-y, and so is the MacBook Pro. The new Macs look like iPads with keyboards. They're clearly the latest iteration of Apple's current design language, but what if they're more than that? What if the iPad-ification of OS X and the iPad-like design of the MBPs are a sign of where this is all heading?

We've seen how quickly mobile processors are progressing, and it won't be long before it's possible to put the specs of today's MacBook Pros into a MacBook Air-thin iPad. Quad or six-core processors, oodles of RAM and a couple of Thunderbolt ports in an iPad could produce something really interesting.

Remember I said Thunderbolt meant a MacBook Pro could be the core of some serious computing power? What if the core Apple has in mind isn't a MacBook Pro, but an iPad?

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.