Why the User refused Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 port
Last October Apple released the latest Macbook Pro. Apple describes it as “A touch of Genius”. Part of the new design is the switch to Thunderbolt 3 ports exclusively. According to Apple,
“Thunderbolt 3 combines ultra-high bandwidth with the ultra-versatility of the USB-C industry standard to create one revved-up universal port. It integrates data transfer, charging, and video output in a single connector, delivering up to 40 Gbps of throughput for twice the bandwidth of Thunderbolt 2.” (Source: www.apple.com)
Sounds pretty neat, right? Then why is Apple looking back at a tumultuous period after the release of the Macbook Pro, a period in which the Thunderbolt 3 has been repeatedly criticized?
The User’s Perspective
A modest online research shows that the critique is not aimed at the quality of the functionality . The Thunderbolt 3 ports work as expected (aside from the occasional, inevitable defect). No, the outrage, if we may call it such, is not about the product quality. It is aimed at the how of the functionality. How does the functionality improve the User’s life?
In other words, something went wrong in the User Experience.
To find out why the switch to Thunderbolt 3 ports did not ‘click’ with the User, it is important to find out who that mysterious User is. Again based on an online research, the following User Stories appear.
“I have been a photographer for over 8 years. During this time I have developed an optimal work process to ensure high productivity, but a lot of time is still spend on editing the photos. There is a certain time pressure to get the photos finished as my livelihood depends on a speedily delivery of the edited photos to my clients.”
The Remote Worker
“I work in a startup. Working in a startup requires me to be able to work anytime and anywhere. To adequately respond to this lifestyle I always carry my laptop around with me — from birthdays to dinner parties, from the dentist to car inspections.”
“The programs I run on my laptop require a lot of disk space and file transfers. I do not want to be slowed down doing my job and wait for files to upload. At the same time, I do need reliable tools and hardware.”
“I use my laptop for all sorts of things — watching videos, doing homework, making presentations. I need a reliable computer that is not hard to work with, and which does not cost me an arm and a leg.”
How did each of these Personas react when they got to know the new Macbook Pro (2016) with Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of the regular ports? These are the most common reactions:
What went wrong?
The functionality itself works fine, nothing wrong in that respect. What did go wrong is the User Experience.
Good product + Bad UX = Bad product (at least, for the market)
The main reason for Apple to make a switch to the Thunderbolt 3 port exclusively is the wish to be innovative. It is a decision based on future expectations in the world of data transfer. But as we can see, the functionality does not meet User goals. It does not help them reach their goals any easier than before — it actually makes it harder.
Apple focused on a product of the future, but did not take into account the people of today.
It is possible that in several years everyone will have transitioned to wireless data transfer and this is just — as Apple depicts it — a “transition period”. The Thunderbolt 3 might indeed be the product of the future. But today, it does not fit into the User’s Context of Use.
It is important to realize that a product cannot exist on its own. A successful product is a product that gets incorporated into the User’s reality, a product that has some meaning to the User’s world.
To get incorporated we need to find out how the product can add value to the broader context. If the User cannot find any value, then a product is doomed to fail.
It should not be forgotten that the Macbook Pro is first and foremost a tool for the User to achieve his goals. Whether this is writing papers, programming or editing photos. The overwhelming majority of the Users most definitely does not see it as a goal to “learn how to use a Macbook Pro”.
The Personas above do not see a way to easily incorporate the Thunderbolt ports in their lives. On the contrary — it sets them up with a challenge. They are forced to figure out how they can get the same work done with a new tool. They need to move away from the earlier method of work and embrace a new process. That needs effort, time and — in the case of the Thunderbolt functionality — extra adapters.
What does this mean for Apple?
Let’s not forget that Apple did also receive positive feedback on the Thunderbolt 3 — it’s not all that black and white. But looking at the number of concerns and complaints voiced, Apple evidently did not live up to many User’s expectations when it introduced this new functionality.
Was Apple aware of the gap between product and user needs before the launch of the Macbook Pro? Who knows. Right after the launch Apple did acknowledge there is a ‘transition period’ for Users to get used to the new system. After the outrage about the ports, Apple has thus temporarily cut prices on USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 accessories.
The Thunderbolt 3 feature and its feedback should not be considered an isolated issue. The functionality is part of a system that has a lot more functionalities, many of them praised by the User. Most of the Users will not make a decision to buy a laptop based on only one functionality, but instead take the entire system into consideration. This fact as well as the historic popularity of Apple’s products give the company a good chance of pulling it off and keep sales going. The User will either learn to live with the changes or simply adapt the product to his own needs: