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Apple and the incredible vanishing CD drive

Kirk McElhearn | Oct. 31, 2012
When Apple announced new Macs last week, one thing that was notably absent from the new models presented was an optical drive. While Apple has been phasing out CD/DVD drives since the introduction of the MacBook Air in January 2008, the shift has been slow and gradual. But on Tuesday, Apple dealt a big blow to the music and movie industries.

When Apple announced new Macs last week, one thing that was notably absent from the new models presented was an optical drive. While Apple has been phasing out CD/DVD drives since the introduction of the MacBook Air in January 2008, the shift has been slow and gradual. But on Tuesday, Apple dealt a big blow to the music and movie industries.

If you look at Apples current lineup of Macs, only two models contain built-in optical drives. One is the Mac Pro, which hasnt been updated for ages, and which is designed for professional users. The Mac Pro is unique, as you can actually put a second optical drive in it, but Apple has vowed to release a new pro desktop in 2013 and who knows what it's design will be. the other model with a bulit-in optical drive is the regular, non-Retina-display MacBook Pro. But the new iMac, in order to obtain its svelte edges, abandons the optical drive, and the Mac mini hasnt had one since the compact model was released in July 2011. (The Mac mini server released in 2009 also eschewed an optical drive, but servers dont generally include them.) All of Apples other laptops; the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pros with Retina displays are bereft of optical drives.

While removing the optical drive saves space,CDs and DVDs dictate the minimum size of such drivesit also means that owners of these new Macs can no longer rip CDs without a lot of extra work. Sure, you can buy an external optical driveApple sells its USB SuperDrive for $79, and you can get external CD/DVD drives from other brands for $30 or less. And while plenty of people buy music via download, there are still a lot of CD sales (not to mention built-up collections). The lack of an optical drive might be the final nudge that gets people to look to the iTunes Store (or Amazon MP3, even) for their music instead of to their local record store (assuming they still actually have one).

You can use optical drives to play DVDs too, of course, and many Mac users did just that on their beautiful 27-inch iMacs. Apple has chosen not to support Blu-ray playback on MacsSteve Jobs in 2008 famously referred to Blu-rays licensing as a bag of hurt, and the companys senior VP of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, said pretty much the same to Harry McCracken at Time last weekso that lack of support is not a loss per se. But the obvious choice is, again, the iTunes Store for movies.

Outside of bandwidth, theres no good reason to opt for standard definition these days. Id guess that most people who download movies from the iTunes Store also have an HDTV, and why bother buying Blu-ray discs when you can get the movies from Apple without leaving your house (and know that theyll play on your Apple TV, Mac, and iOS device)?

 

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