Do Apple’s Latest Moves Signal the Death of Optical Drives?
I have realized Apple and I finally have something in common: We both think CD/DVD drives are a waste of time, money and space. Yet, not all users seem to agree. So I ask: Is the optical drive really dead?
First, some personal, anecdotal background: I spent a large part of the last year traveling, using a Dell Latitude 2100 netbook as my only computer. It has no optical drive, but I never once missed having one. As a Linux user, I can easily install my operating system from a USB drive, and download all of my productivity software for free. I stopped purchasing video DVDs years ago, since most content is available more cheaply and conveniently online. And I haven’t used CDs or DVDs to back up data since the 1990s, because backing up files to media that’s certain to fail sooner or later is just silly. In fact, I’d kind of forgotten that optical drives even existed …
But then, Apple made headlines in July 2011 when it released the latest Mac mini without any built-in optical drive. To stave off consumer panic, the company reminded customers that the Mac mini would still be able to read and write CDs and DVDs via other computers, or using the external optical drive built into the SuperDrive tool. All the same, Apple PR presented the absence of the optical drive as a step away from legacy technology and toward a brighter, faster future.
When I read the Mac mini news, my first thought was that Apple, once again, was simply blowing smoke by pretending that it was the first to do something others have been doing for years. Most netbooks have long shipped without built-in optical drives, and no one made a big deal out of that, so why should we care that the Mac mini now lacks one as well?
Optical Drives, the Panopticon and You
It appears, however, that dismissing the importance of the optical drive in the Mac mini and other hardware puts me in a minority. Customer reviews of the new machine seethe with discontent over the decision. Some of the comments:
Too many people still use optical drives for this to be practical for its market.
… the missing DVD drive is a deal breaker.
But no DVD? ***?
So I now find myself wondering: Am I really that strange not to care about having an internal DVD drive? Are network connections for most people, at least in their minds, not yet sufficient to deliver all of their data? Have non-geeks yet to grasp how much cheaper, faster and more reliable USB storage is? And have we still not moved beyond the paradigm where installing an operating system — and applications, for that matter — just doesn’t feel right if it doesn’t involve inserting disk A, followed by disk B and so on?
It seems the answers to those questions are yes, yes, yes and yes. Or at least, that’s what most consumers appear to think, no doubt to the satisfaction of hardware OEMs that can continue to profit by selling drives for CDs and DVDs, despite the fact that such media has much more efficient, cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternatives in the form of USB storage and network connections.
The Luddite reluctance among many consumers to abandon optical drives leaves me wondering how ready non-geeks really are for the cloud, despite all the hype that marketers have invested in it recently. If most people still aren’t comfortable without storing the bulk of their data on CDs and DVDs, how are they going to accept moving it to a distant storage location away on the Internet somewhere?
Perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much: Most Mac mini reviewers, it seems, have at least managed to get on alright without floppy drives.