Apple Kills Optical Media, White Macbooks in Latest Refresh

Dave Courbanou

July 21, 2011

3 Min Read
Apple Kills Optical Media, White Macbooks in Latest Refresh

It’s here, as promised: Mac OS X Lion has hit the Mac App Store, and for $30 it can be yours. What other goodies has Apple offered up along with the new OS? On the hardware side, we get a host of new Mac Minis, new MacBook Airs and an interesting subtraction from Apple’s lineup. Does Apple have optical media in its crosshairs? All this and more, if you read on …

Macbook Airs are now a whole lot beefier at the same price points, and they now include the long-awaited backlit keyboard. Both the 11-inch and the 13-inch can be outfitted with either a Core i5 at 1.6GHz or 1.7GHz, or a Core i7 at 1.8 GHz. Plus, they now support the Thunderbolt I/O technology. Same battery life, same screen resolution, same exact aluminum enclosure, all just a little better than they were before. Color me jealous: I’ve had my first-generation 11-inch MacBook Air since December 2010 — less than a year and Apple has outdone itself.

Those under-the-hood upgrades also made it into the new Mac Mini, starting with 2.3GHz Core i5 CPUs, but absent of any optical drives. The old Mac Mini had two options: a DVD burner slot for the regular Mac Mini, or an extra disk drive for the server version. The new Mac Mini, much like the Mac Mini Server before it, is now just a 1.4 inch-high brick of aluminum with a bunch of ports in the back (yes, including Thunderbolt). The new Mac Mini server sports the same tiny enclosure but features a 2GHz Core i7 quad-core CPU.

Apple is making the very same death-of-optical statement with its laptops, because now, the MacBook Pro line is the only line of MacBooks that support optical media. And what happened to the white polycarbonate MacBook? It’s dead — unless you’re an educational institution. It’s likely Apple saw such great sales of the new MacBook Airs that it dropped the white MacBook altogether. The base MacBook Pro is only $1,199, a small step up from the old white MacBook. It’s likely users will find what they need in a $999 MacBook Air. Apple is even branding the Air as the “ultimate everyday notebook.”

With Lion being distributed exclusively through the Mac App Store, Apple is taking the same stance with optical it took with floppy disks just over a decade ago. Apple now also plans to sell a USB stick  loaded with Lion or $69, or users can bring their Mac to an Apple store and Apple will help them install Lion. Savvy users can extract the Lion install image after they’ve downloaded it and copy it to a USB stick or DVD themselves. But Apple is making a very firm statement here: It’s dragging everyone into the 21st century whether they like it or not. It’s about connected devices, not static media.

Mac OS X Lion, new MacBook Airs and new Mac Minis — they’re all in a small way showing what Apple has planned for the future of its product lineup. So, could we see super-thin iMacs with no optical drives soon? I think it’s only a matter of time.

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