In its new product announcement last week, Apple rolled out a lot of new features – including significantly faster processers and greater expandability for its Macbook Air and Mac Mini lineups. But Cupertino also quietly took something out of its lineup (besides the vanilla Macbook, that is): the Mac Mini is now missing its DVD drive.
They say you need at least two data points to draw a trend, and now we have them: the Macbook Air has never had an optical drive, and now that the Mini’s has disappeared as well, it likely indicates that the company is eyeing a future in which media doesn’t come on a DVD – or a CD-ROM or Blu-Ray disc, for that matter.
For a lot of companies – and a lot of users – the move to a discless world makes a lot of sense. It’s easier for both parties to deal in digital downloads – as opposed to the comparatively byzantine process of burning software to physical media, packaging it, and shipping it around. And the exclusion of an optical drive allows computers to be that much smaller, lighter, and less expensive.
This isn’t the first time Apple’s been in this position, either. Back in 1998, the company introduced the original iMac without a floppy drive, pulling the plug on a technology that was still considered standard. (In hindsight, that was probably a good call, though Apple’s move caused quite an outcry at the time.)
For a lot of people, though, it really is too soon to ditch the discs. Let’s assume that Apple will continue to remove optical drives throughout its laptop and desktop lines, as it did with the floppy drive: this is probably an unwelcome scenario to anyone hoping to watch a DVD on an airplane.
There’s also the home theater crowd to consider. The previous generation Mac Mini, with its flexible display options and DVD drive, gained acclaim as a near-perfect media player (just hook it up to an HDTV and you’re good to go!). But now that the drive is gone, the retribution from home-theater enthusiasts is swift. Over at tech site Engadget, Nilay Patel cited the lack of DVD support as his biggest gripe with the machine, saying, "The Mac mini looks like it'd be the ideal home theater PC … [but] having access to Hulu, Boxee, iTunes and Netflix is just half of the story -- there aren't too many HTPC owners that never pay their local Redbox a visit."
There’s no reason to think that Apple will bring back optical drives in the future, which means it’s also unlikely that it’ll ever introduce Blu-Ray drives in Macs. Steve Jobs famously referred to Blu-Ray as “a bag of hurt” back in 2008, and it’s worth pointing out that when Lion, the next iteration of the Mac OS X operating system, arrives in a physical format in August (it’s download-only for now) it’ll be on a USB stick, not a disc.
What’s your take on Apple’s move? Have you moved on from optical media already, or do you have a collection of discs that must now sit unplayed? Let us know in the comments section. In the meantime, sign up for our free weekly newsletter, which arrives every Wednesday.