As an expectant audience of journalists, developers and fans of Apple Inc. await the announcements from the WWDC on June 10, some of the chatter revolves around new Macs. What kind of Macs? Well, with reports of diminishing stocks of the MacBook Air, that would surely a candidate. Other reports mentions a MacBook Pro with Retina display refresh, though it may be postponed for a while, and what about the aging Mac Pro, long in need of serious upgrades?
But one thing is certain about most of the expected Mac upgrades, and that is the loss of the optical drive. Yes, you can still get an optical drive on some legacy MacBook Pros, 13-inch and 15-inch, but one industry analyst suggested that they are on the way out. Indeed, Apple might not install the latest Intel Haswell chips on them, but keep them in the lineup until sales have diminished enough to drop them.
The iMac lost the optical drive last year, but the only purpose it appeared to serve was to allow Apple to make the edges very thin. Since there was no room for an optical drive, it was removed, except that the design change doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. You only notice the iMac is thinner when you stare at the edges, which is not the normal way of doing business. I haven’t looked at the edges of my 2009 iMac since I moved to a new home last year. Besides, the 2012 iMac is more difficult to service, and an easy way to upgrade RAM was dropped from the 21.5-inch version. Where’s the value in any of those decisions?
What’s more, Apple lost out on hundreds of thousands of possible Mac sales last year because the new iMac was afflicted with early production delays. Was it really worth the effort?
So now there’s the Mac Pro, with one report suggesting the next version will ship without any room for internal expansion beyond RAM, and it won’t have an optical drive. You’ll have to depend on Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. Does Apple have any customer research to indicate that users of the Mac Pro have no need for optical drives? There’s even a second bay if you want to install two on the current model. Is that destined to become history?
Of course, Apple avoided Blu-ray altogether, although you can still get one as an external drive. Steve Jobs once called the licensing “a bag of hurt,” and maybe he was right. But does that mean customers should be inconvenienced anyway?
Yes, I realize that more and more Mac users don’t need optical drives, and so perhaps the long-term trends indicate that physical media is passé. But not today. Some software is still available on physical media, and its a sure thing older versions are in a number of cases. What if you need to reinstall everything from scratch? And don’t content creators sometimes generate DVDs of their files?
Apple’s argument is that, if you still need an optical drive, buy an external SuperDrive. It’s $79, and appears to be identical to the ones that used to be installed on a Mac note-book or iMac. So, other than the extra expenditure, the inconvenience may be minor, though it forces you to carry an extra appendage in your carrying bag if you have a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro with Retina Display — or a Mac mini for that matter.
I suppose it can also be argued that, for the majority who don’t need an optical drive, the money you spend on a new Mac gets you more value in other ways, such as better performance, slimmer designs, and all that sort of thing. Why pay for something you probably don’t need?
In the scheme of things, Apple is just thinking ahead. They decreed that you didn’t need a floppy drive in 1998 when the original iMac appeared. However, the early iMacs didn’t even include a CD burner, so the lack of a floppy didn’t make a whole lot of sense — at least not then. It took a few years before the external floppy drives that many purchased sat unused.
So will that happen in the next two or three years with optical drives? What about just using the drive so you can watch a rented movie on your Mac? Oh, that’s right, there’s no Blu-ray drive either. Just stick with iTunes, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Instant Video. All right, maybe you have to pay extra for a beefier data plan when you’re on the road, but you won’t have to fret with all those discs. Not near an Internet connection? That’s just too bad.
Now my son’s very troubled 2008 black MacBook is on its last legs. He has loads of CDs and DVDs, and wouldn’t want to lose the internal optical drive. There’s still an entry-level 13-inch MacBook that would fill his requirements should he decide to buy one. Perhaps he should hurry. That model may be on the endangered note-books list.
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