Apple last week removed DVD drives from its Mac Mini computers. Shane Richmond says this is the beginning of the end for the optical drive.
Apple updated some of its computers last week. The MacBook Air and the Mac Mini both got significant processor upgrades and the addition of Thunderbolt ports. While the additions are interesting, it’s something that was removed that is especially telling.
It’s not the MacBook, though Apple did quietly retire its trusty old laptop from service, leaving just the Air and the Pro in the MacBook range. What’s gone is the optical drive on the Mac Mini.
That means neither the Air or the Mini have optical drives anymore. If you want to play a DVD or a CD – or to save data to one – then you’ll need a £66 SuperDrive. The MacBook Pro retains an optical drive for now but it’s clear that Apple believes that the disc is living on borrowed time.
Many will argue that it is too soon to ditch the disc. Apple is familiar with that sort of reaction, however, and hasn’t been deterred in the past. There was an outcry, for example, when the iMac was launched in 1998 without a floppy disk drive. Apple’s other computers gradually followed suit. Dell didn’t remove floppy drives from its machines until 2003.
If those who genuinely need an optical drive are not yet a minority then they soon will be. My MacBook Pro has an optical drive but I can’t remember the last time I needed to use it. At the end of last year I switched to a MacBook Air for day-to-day use and I’ve never wished that it had an optical drive.
What about those who do need them? Most software can be downloaded these days, as Apple demonstrated by launching Lion – the latest version of its OS X operating system for Macs – as a download-only product. When it is eventually made available in Apple’s shops it will be on a USB stick, not a DVD.
Perhaps you watch films on your laptop? Apple would rather you downloaded those, too. Ideally from its iTunes Store. Sure, the iTunes Store doesn’t yet offer HD films in the same quality as on a Blu-ray disc but if you’re watching Blu-ray films on anything less than a 30” screen you’re wasting your time anyway.
Blu-ray is a regular sticking point for many Apple sceptics. Steve Jobs has called Blu-ray “a bag of hurt” and said “it will be beaten by internet downloadable formats” but there are still some who hope that Apple will add Blu-ray players to its computers. I doubt that it will.
It’s possible to use Blu-ray discs for back-ups but an external hard drive would do the job just as well, if not better, given the super-fast transfer speeds made possible by the Thunderbolt port. For smaller, more regular back-ups, the cloud is your friend.
Get rid of the optical drive from a laptop and it can be made thinner and lighter and, with fewer moving parts inside, slightly less likely to need repairing. They might last in desktops for a little longer but my guess is that Apple will believe them to be redundant there too.
Despite all of the above, you might still firmly believe that you need an optical drive. And you might even be right. If you’re an Apple user, there are still computers that you can buy with optical drives but only, I would think, for a few more years. Google’s Chromebooks – designed to work entirely on the web – also come without an optical drive. If you’re a PC user then you almost certainly have a little longer – but only a little.
The days of the optical drive are numbered. Better get ready to live without it.