Apple Moves Further Away from Optical Discs

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Apple Moves Away from Optical DiscsEarlier this year, I wrote an article called “Is Apple On a Mission to Destroy Optical Discs?” It was a valid question with plenty of evidence to support my theory that yes, the company is taking calculated steps to push users away from optical discs. Now, new actions taken by Apple should leave little question about the company’s intentions regarding DVD and CD media: it is ancient history.

Reduction of Boxed Software
In the previous article, I speculated that OS X v10.7 Lion would not ship on a traditional DVD-ROM install disc, but would instead be available as a download through the Mac App store. This suspicion was confirmed this past summer. Users who needed to install the upgrade from a physical media source were given the option to purchase a special USB drive with the software for $79.

In a move that strongarms customers into using the Mac App store, Apple silently pulled specific boxed software titles from its retail stores in July 2011. The list includes OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) and Snow Leopard Server, iLife, iWork, Aperture, Xsan, and Apple Remote Desktop. These programs are now only available through the Mac App store. This means that Apple does not have to produce discs for software titles which are no longer enjoying high sales volumes.

Mac Mini Loses Disc Drive
The latest version of the Mac Mini was introduced in July 2011, and it is the smallest and most powerful model to date. It is also notable for its lack of a built-in CD/DVD drive, a feature that came standard on previous models.

Now, the only way to read or burn discs on a Mac Mini is with an external SuperDrive which connects via USB cable. This is the same drive Apple recommends for use with the MacBook Air. At $79, it’s not exactly a bargain for an external CD/DVD burner.

Lack of Blu-ray Support
Apple never got on board with the Blu-ray disc format, which has been around since 2006 and has been the sole format for high-definition entertainment since 2008. Why they would choose to not support a major media format – one that has seen explosive growth in the consumer electronics industry – remains a mystery.

One theory is that if customers are able to watch Blu-ray discs on their home computers, they will be less likely to purchase digital versions of the same movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store. Again, this is just speculation.

No Hints of UltraViolet Support
The next generation of home entertainment is UltraViolet. Set to debut later this year, UltraViolet combines a new optical disc format with a digital storage locker. This will enable consumers to enjoy disc-based content they have paid for on a variety of mobile devices such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops. So far, Apple has not shown any interest in joining the UltraViolet consortium led by the DECE.

Towards A Disc-Free Computing Experience
While Apple has been busy removing disc drives and boxed software, they have also introduced new features and services such as the Mac App Store and the iCloud online file storage system. These services are a clear indication of where the company is headed: towards a disc-free computing experience.

What are the consequences of transitioning to a world without physical storage media? Will there be issues with cost, availability, reliability, and convenience of switching to online-based file storage and software downloads? I think that the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes!”

The Benefits of Optical Media
We know that optical media has proven to be a high-capacity, low-cost storage format that is both convenient and portable. If your Internet connection is slow or is unavailable, it is still possible to burn a CD-R disc, watch a DVD movie, or restore a backup of your computer. Without a reliable high-speed Internet connection, users are completely cut off from their personal files as well as the ability to install new software.

The large capacity of a DVD-R or Blu-ray disc is an excellent way to store large files such as videos, digital photos, and system backups. This is an area where cloud computing falls dramatically short. Uploading and retrieving large files from “the cloud” can have lengthy transfer times, especially with large files. A package of blank DVD-R discs is cheaper than a subscription to any cloud-based storage service and offers instant and unlimited access, even during a network outage.

As for software, anyone who has ever used a System Recovery disc or reinstalled a program knows the value of having a physical copy of the program close at hand.

While Apple’s new Mac Mini and other services are exciting, I would encourage users to carefully consider the pros and cons of switching to a disc-free computing environment before ditching their discs. I have a feeling that for some users, these new services may not be the ‘Apple’ of the eye that they appear to be!

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