If there is a sure-fire way to make headlines, it’s to write a story about Apple Computer and what they might be doing next. However, it’s what the Cupertino-based computer manufacturer is NOT doing that’s got my attention: they are not making a lot of new products with optical disc drives. As I explore the question of whether or not Apple is on a mission to destroy optical discs, I would like to begin by sharing with you a story from the not-too-distant past.
In 1996, Apple Computer made history with the release of the iMac. This new desktop was unlike anything ever seen before in the computer industry. Historically, computers were unsightly beige boxes that attached to a monitor with multiple cords and wires. The iMac computer combined the screen and all components into a single teardrop-shaped case made of translucent plastic.
There was more to the iMac than just its unusual appearance. One significant difference about the iMac was its lack of a 3.5″ floppy drive. Up until this point in time, a diskette drive had been an essential component of a personal computer. They were used for backing up files, installing programs, and allowed for boot disks to install or repair operating systems.
To not include a floppy diskette drive was unheard of. It was controversial. Apple came under fire from industry pundits and computer magazine columnists. But you know what? Apple’s decision was a pivotal point in the computer industry. It pushed people away from magnetic media and towards optical media such as CD-ROM discs, which quickly became the new standard for data storage.
Other manufacturers were quick to follow Apple’s lead in making their computers bootable from CD-ROM discs as well. You might say that Apple’s controversial decision marked the beginning of the end for the 3.5″ floppy diskette.
So where am I going with all of this? I’m glad you asked. We have seen how Apple influenced the computer industry into using optical discs instead of floppies. Now, it seems like they are doing the same thing to optical media.
In 2008, Apple introduced the MacBook Air – the “World’s Thinnest Notebook” computer. The computer’s amazingly thin profile of just 19mm was attributed in part to its lack of a built-in optical disc drive. This was another move that drew criticism from the computer industry, who lamented the lost productivity in the name of portability. An external SuperDrive for recording and playing DVD and CD discs was available as an option.
In 2010, Apple introduced the second generation of Apple TV. When attached to your television, this palm-sized gadget allows you to enjoy streaming music, movies, and photos over the Internet or from your iTunes library.
In essence, AppleTV is a competitor to the stand-alone DVD player, which has been an essential component of every home theater system for years. Using an Apple TV removes the need to buy DVD discs in order to watch a movie.
Now in 2011, Apple has released a beta version of their Mac OS X operating system, version 10.7 “Lion.” What’s significant about this beta release is that it is not available to developers on a CD or DVD installation disc. Currently, it is only available as a downloadable installer through the Mac App store. It remains to be seen whether the final release of OS X 10.7 will ship on optical media as in the past, or if it will only be available through the App Store.
Whatever happens in the coming months, I think there is enough evidence present to conclude that Apple has a game plan to get people away from optical discs. In my opinion, the company has been producing lots of products without optical disc drives in order to get users to adopt wireless, streaming, and digital delivery of content.
Remember that in 1998, a world without floppy diskettes seemed unimaginable. Today, I believe that we are standing at the threshhold of a world without optical media and that Apple is trying to push us through the door.
What are your thoughts on the future of data storage? Are you ready to ditch your discs, or is getting rid of the disc drive a big mistake? Share your thoughts with us by posting a comment below.