Thunderbolt is the latest legacy from Intel that Apple uses
Although Thunderbolt may seem like a name coined by Apple, it is a name coined by Intel, for an optical technology with which to transfer data at high speed. And despite the fact that Intel was the promoter of Thunderbolt, in 2018 Intel released the royalties for this connection, so that no third-party manufacturer that uses this technology must pay rights by name and use to Intel.
However, Is USB Type C the same as Thunderbolt? In essence, not. The USB-C connector is the evolution of the physical USB port, and was created to unify charging and transfer connectors in as many devices as possible. USB-C is the reversible port, the one we are all used to seeing. Even in the vast majority of Apple devices (except the iPhone) we already have USB-C. But still, Apple calls it Thunderbolt.
A USB-C port can implement Thunderbolt technology. But the technology Thunderbolt doesn’t have to be a USB-C port. The best example we have in the older MacBooks. Before they incorporated USB-C ports, they had Thunderbolt technology, through a connection called a “mini display port”. Which, before the arrival of USB-C, was designed to connect accessories and peripherals and provide them with greater performance.
The USB-C ports of many Apple computers, in addition to having the reversible technology itself, are compatible with high charging and information transfer speeds. Thus, Thunderbolt 4 is the current generation of Intel technology, which allows up to 40 GB per second of transfer and adds the capacity of connection with more devices simultaneously.
Speed is the key but not the hardware
On the other hand, Thunderbolt 2, “only” supported speeds up to 20 GB per second of data transfer. And we are talking about these speeds for computers between 2012 and 2015, the MacBook Pro that incorporated them. USB 3.1 transfer speeds over USB A (traditional connection), offer up to 10 GB per second of transfer speeds.
Therefore, Apple has adopted the following position: if all the equipment that has USB-C also has Thunderbolt technology, we are going to call them all Thunderbolt. This was the case until relatively recently, and it is that Apple, in some products, start distinguishing between Thunderbolt and USB-C. For example, the 10th generation iPad already incorporates USB-C, but it is not Thunderbolt. So Apple calls it USB-C. Or the 24-inch iMac, which can be purchased with two or four ports. Two of them are Thunderbolt. Two of them, no. And therefore, makes the distinction.
As we saidthis name distinction is very recent. The first 2016 MacBook Pros, which only had a USB-C connector, supported fast charging and data transfer speeds. The same as the MacBook Air, the iPad Pro, the Apple Studio Display and so on, a long etcetera. Now that USB-C is an EU-enforced standard, Apple has no choice but to implement the port on all of its devices. The physical port, yes, but the ultra-fast data transfer speed… This is another matter.