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Are Optical Drives Dead?

July 27, 2011 - Dave Hecei
There are rumors from more than one source that claim Apple is making a 15-inch version of the MacBook Air. (One even purports that a 17-inch model is also on the drawing board.) This both excites me and scares me. On the one hand, I would love to have a super light, super thin 15-inch Mac. What scares me is that Apple might really be trying to kill off optical discs.

What makes the Air an Air is sort of two fold. First, and foremost, is the size. It is super thin, super light, but with plenty of speed to work on all but the most demanding tasks. The second is speed, or perception of speed. Part of this speed comes from the use of an SSD storage system. Yet, this is no ordinary SSD. Instead of one that physically looks like a laptop hard drive, with SATA connectors and all, Apple uses a special repackaged SSD that looks more like a large memory SIMM. This allows Apple to design the Air as thin as possible.

While a 15-inch Air is currently only rumor, the new Mac mini that was released last week is fact. The fact is that the mini no longer has an optical drive. This means that Apple now has two distinct product lines that no longer have optical drives. The Air has an excuse. It has no optical drive because of its size. The mini has no excuse. The mini has not had any physical changes that would require Apple to remove it from the design. They removed it because they are thinking optical drives are unnecessary. (They did, however, lower the price of the mini by $100.)

If you look back, Apple has done this sort of thing more than once. The boldest move happened with the original Bondi Blue iMac. Apple did away with serial ports, SCSI, ADB, and the floppy drive. Apple decided these were old technologies and were not needed anymore. They were eventually right, but it did hurt quite a bit a first to lose these things.

Apple has stated, or at least Steve Jobs – Apple CEO, that Blu-Ray is ‘a bag of hurt’, or something to that end. I have to at least say that using Lion for the last few days I can see that having an optical drive for loading software is probably a thing of the past. The Mac App Store is the future. It will be the place where we all buy software for our Macs. The problem is that I still love and use optical media for music, video, and general backups.

I will probably have a mini some time here in the near future. If a 15-inch Air came to fruition, I would seriously think about upgrading to one of those too. I guess I better invest in a few more portable DVD burners. Maybe I can even find a Blu-Ray burner on the cheap some day.


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