USB vs FireWire vs Thunderbolt

Market Stats


What the Market Looks like as of 2016


The Image above depicts the market share projections up to 2016 as percent's from USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt connectors. It is apparent that while the market for thunderbolt had little growth the USB market has shifted from being 95% USB 2.0 in 2012 to close to 100% in 2016. In 2016 it is practically impossible to locate a machine that does not utilize USB 3.0 tech. Due to Thunderbolt's high cost being even more expensive than FireWire we see that in the market of PCs preference goes to cheaper options and since USB 3.0 is on par with Thunderbolt speeds there is almost no need for manufactures to use the tech. It is almost inevitable that Thunderbolt will suffer from the same failures as FireWire. Because these technologies are not made by one company it is important to note that the market is not measurable in dollars but rather the acceptance rate of each technology.

History of the Market

FireWire History

FireWire or IEEE 1394 is a connection specification that was mainly used by Apple from the late 90s and early 2010s. The technology was first produced and developed by Apple in 1994. FireWire devices could be "daisy-chained" (Cunningham) together such that the one port could connect to multiple devices, I.E. displays, external hard drives, and many more. The major benefit of FireWire is that upon early release it could transfer data at up to 66 times faster than early USB type 1.1 which had transfer rate of 12 mbps. The only issue with FireWire is that it was costly to implement. Although other manufactures could create the port with a different name this would lead to confusion for buyers so Apple Licensed there branding of the technology to competitors. While licensing became an issue the technology itself was expensive which is why the market for IEEE 1394 shifted from personal computing to higher end external storage and video products that actually required higher bandwidth. In its later stages FireWire has been revised to models of 400 and 800 with the number corresponding to Megabits per second.

Thunderbolt History

Thunderbolt was first introduced to the market in 2011 by Apple. Like FireWire Thunderbolt has the capability of connecting to multiple (up to 6) and different output types. While Thunderbolt is widely used by Apple in it's Mac machines the technology was developed by intel. Thunderbolt started out with using fiber optic connectors and was later remodeled using copper, a cheaper alternative. Like FireWire adoption of Thunderbolt was slow with Apple being the main supporter and the cost of implementation was still relatively high.

Thunderbolt 2.0, introduced in the 2013 MacBook. Thunderbolt 2 increased speed to 5Gbps and allowed for connection to multiple peripherals simultaneously via the OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock. The OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock contains ports for USB, audio, FireWire, Ethernet, more Thunderbolts, and HDMI.

USB History

USB or Universal serial bus has over 20 years of history in it's market. Starting with USB 1.1 the technology was first released in 1998 and had a max transfer capacity of 12mbps. It started with a standard A to B cable. In its early release USB 1.1 easily dominated the market of connectors that contained PS/2, serial, parallel, and Apple Desktop Bus which had much slower data transfer ability and were not able to support different types of devices.

As other technologies developed, the market felt the pressure to increase connector capabilities and thus USB 2.0 was born in the early 2000s. While other technologies were available like IEEE 1394, they were fairly expensive and not as widely adopted by the computer market. USB 2.0 provided faster data transfer speeds than its predecessor while keeping it's cost low.

The more modern implementation comes in the form of USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 Gen 1. The only noticeable difference in USB is speed with top transfer speeds clocking in a 5Gbps and Power with it being able to offer 900mW of bus power versus USB 2.0 which delivered 500mW. The connector in USB 3.0 is compatible with USB 2.0 and features a blue connector. 3.1 Gen 1 is now in the stage of Gen 2 which offers double the data transfer speed and is the latest of the specification.

What About USB Type-C

We finally arrive at USB Type-C. It is important to note that USB Type-C is only a connector and a specification of cable. This is the most modern and latest technology that has been developed. It allows for double sided connectivity, as in you do not have to continuously flip the cable to get it to plug in. This technology allows for data transfer of up to 10Gbps and 100W bus power. USB Type-C allows for charging of phones and even computers, to data transfer and video output. The technology is so advanced that Intel's latest revision of their Thunderbolt cable, Thunderbolt 3, makes use of USB Type-C connectors.

Who Dominates the Market?

As it stands, USB standard 3.0 is the generally more widely accepted that Thunderbolt and FireWire as it pertains to the personal computing market. USB 3.0 is faster than FireWire and meets the speeds of Thunderbolt while being cheaper. Currently USB ranges from being on PCs, MacBooks, Tablets, and many other machines FireWire and Thunderbolt have inevitably failed to make a strong break in the market while both technologies have been popularized by Apple are now positioning into higher end markets.

Market Future

As the world grows so does the need for more convenient technologies. While USB 3.0 can provide us with faster speeds than ever before, Wireless technology has been gaining popularity over the past 3 years. The headphone market has nearly completely shifted from wired connection to almost every major manufacturer utilizing Bluetooth 4.1 tech in their products. With the first phone being wirelessly chargeable in 2013 and data transfer over Wi-Fi becoming more popular the possibilities are endless. It is inevitable that eventually wired connections may become obsolete.