Belkin has just dropped eSATA support as well as the price tag of its Thunderbolt Express Dock. The price has been dropped back down to its original price of $299. Belkin’s Thunderbolt Express Dock was quietly introduced in September of 2011 and made an official debut as a prototype at CES 2012. However, in June of last year, the device was changed a bit and had its price raised by $100. Fortunately, Belkin has just announced that it will be bringing the price of the device down by dropping eSATA support.
The 'temporary' price point of $ 399,– was absolutely ludicrous, but the old/new one isn't significantly less stupid.
Sure, Thunderbolt is still a niche interface and will continue to be as long as manufacturers don't decide to release more products for it — oh, and drop the price for cables to a sensible level. As of now it's pretty much a technology for professionals.
So, with the current range of Apple computers in mind, what's the target group for this device?
- Macbook Pro users get at least one Thunderbolt port, two USB3.0 ports, an audio output and some kind of digital video output for their money.
- Mac mini and iMac users get tons of ports on their computers, too.
- What remains are MacBook Air buyers who for some reason need more than two USB3.0 ports at the best possible transfer rates (meaning that a decent USB3.0 hub somehow isn't good enough) and FireWire 800 and an Ethernet jack and audio ports (I'm interested to know how these audio ports compare to even the cheapest USB audio card).
Belkin is making a mistake, because even professionals will think twice before buying an accessory this expensive, when the computers able to leverage the power of the Thunderbolt Express Dock are usually a) pretty expensive from the get-go and b) mostly feature a decent range of useful and fast ports by default.
Continuing this train of thought, you have to consider that Apple offers the Thunderbolt Display for $ 999,–. The latter is not only a decent display for the price (compared to displays with similar specifications), but it's next iteration will most likely have USB3.0 as well. Now imagine a user who plans to buy a good display and also wants to leverage the benefits of the Thunderbolt port on his or her machine. The price difference between a good display + the Thunderbolt Express Dock, versus the Thunderbolt Display isn't very big.
The niche for the Thunderbolt Express Dock is tiny and becomes only a bit bigger if you include older machines (like the 2011 Mac mini I'm writing this on). For those it constitutes an upgrade of sorts. The benefits from my perspective would be the additional FireWIre 800 port and, most importantly, three fast USB3.0 ports. Still, it's hellishly expensive and costs about a third of what I paid for my top tier 2011 Mac mini.
I'm really curious about the cost of production per unit; it would give a hint as to whether Belkin can't price this thing lower, or if they don't want to — the latter of which would be perfectly fine, stupid, but fine.
If I had to price this device for the consumer (or even the prosumer), I wouldn't cross the $ 199,– mark if I could help it.