No SuperDrive, No Problem

The year is 1997 and Steve Jobs has returned to Apple and the confusing Mac product line is in the process of being streamlined to a few simple options. Apple required a replacement for the Performa series; their consumer targeted computer line. In May of 1998 Apple announces the first in their new line of Consumer targeted Computers, and the iMac is born.

The iMac is what many consider the rebirth of Apple. The colorful all-in-one PC was a huge hit in the market and breathed new life into the company. The tan boxes Apple had been sporting for twenty years were gone and a new design element was introduced in the product line. There was one thing lacking from the iMac that most users believed was important, and I’m sure it caused many possible customers to turn away from Apple at the time. The iMac did not have a Floppy Drive.

Although with our current standards of looking of technology, the tiny plastic cases around a thin magnetic disk that made up a Floppy Disk seems like something out of the distant past. At the time, however, they were the most common ways of moving small amounts of data from one computer to another. The best selling add-on for the iMac was the USB floppy drive for years after the computers first introduction. But as time went on CDs became re-writable, USB flash drives came into common use, and broadband increased to the point where files could be sent though the Internet or Local Network instead of being hand delivered on floppy disk. People hardly noticed the lack of the feature and were probably glad for it. Looking back Apple seemed ahead of their time by eliminating the standard from their computers. Ten years later they’ve done it again.

Macworld 2008 brought the release of Apple’s new ultra-portable laptop, the Macbook Air. The Macbook Air fits in between the Macbook and Macbook Pro in Apple’s notebook product line, offers a full Macbook style keyboard, 13 inch LED back-lit screen, and the power of Intel’s Core 2 Duo. What it lacks is the Apple SuperDrive. The main reason Apple probably couldn’t fit the SuperDrive into the notebook is its amazing (thin) size. The computer barely has room for a USB port on the side of the machine, and majority of the bulk comes from the Battery which takes on a large flattened design.

The lack of a SuperDrive on the Macbook Air has turned many people I’ve talked to about the computer off from ever buying one. But in reality the lack of an optical drive is smaller to Apple’s steps to phase out the Floppy Disk in 1998, and fits in with their business plan. The first fact that needs to be made clear is that the Macbook Air is not supposed to be your main computer. It is powerful, but nowhere near as powerful enough to satisfy the average consumer’s needs in an $1800 laptop. So there is no need to be ripping music into MP3s or converting DVDs for use on your iPhone or iPod, there just isn’t enough power. Most software you want to have with you on your Macbook Air can either be downloaded right from the Internet, or you can use the wireless functionality that enables you to use a Mac or PC CD/DVD drive over a network with your Macbook Air. In fact, the last time that I used the SuperDrive on my Macbook was to install Leopard; so I know that I’m not going to miss it.

The one point that most people have made that makes sense is the fact you cannot play DVDs on the Macbook Air. So if you are planning a long trip, there is no chance for you to play your movies. Well, almost no chance. There is also handbreak or other DVD converting software that will get around the protection on the disk and make a digital copy. This is probably ideal if you plan on traveling a lot with your computer anyway, since it’s a bit of a pain to be dragging around a bunch of discs just in case you might want to watch one of them. But this also fits into Apple’s business plan since iTunes gives you the ability to rent a few movies before your trip, eliminating the need to convert your movies or drag your DVD library around the world.

I’m sure the USB add-on SuperDrive will sell like the iMac USB Floppy Drive. But how long before we start seeing all laptops begin to get rid of their optical drives? I doubt it will happen anytime soon for desktops, there are just too many uses a high-powered machine has for an optical drive. But for low powered laptops I believe in the next few years we should start to see optical drives phased out in favor of a more portable, wireless solution as seen in the Macbook Air.


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