Apple Phases Out Optical and Magnetic Drives

Years ago in school we students plugged standard tape recorders into computers to load programs and save files. (That was a big advancement over the older card systems.) Then came the 5.25 inch floppy, which lasted quite a while, then the 3.5 inch floppy, then the zip disk, with a whopping 100 megabytes of storage!

During the development of the magnetic removable disk, of course, the magnetic hard disk drive also became prominent; today terabyte drives are common and cost less than a hundred bucks.

But removable magnetic disks are not commonly used today. They have been replaced by CD and (a bit more recently) DVD optical drives. It seemed reasonable to think that the trend would continue to higher-capacity optical disks (namely Blu-Ray). But now that seems not to be the case.

What is interesting about Apple’s latest design changes is that the company dropped its base-model $999 MacBook, which featured both an optical drive and a hard disk, making its entry-level laptop the MacBook Air, which features neither sort of media. Instead, the Air runs exclusively on flash memory; the entry-level model carries 64 gigs of it. Meanwhile, the entry level $599 Mac Mini dumps the optical drive but keeps a hard drive.

How, then, do you load up software and move around files? The Air is basically an internet-driven machine. Apple has facilitated online software sales with its app store, and later this year it is rolling out its own cloud service for file storage. If you want to move stuff around via physical media, you can plug in a flash drive, optical drive, or hard drive. The computer, then, is going the way of Apple’s portable devices in terms of using (primarily) the internet to transfer data, rather than optical or magnetic drives.

Of course, this model kind of sucks if the internet ever comes down or falls under political control.

I realize I’m describing pretty obvious trends; still, sometimes I think it’s worth stepping back to observe the breathtaking evolution of technology.


Rob commented July 30, 2011 at 10:38 PM
Have you noticed that an entire industry has now sprung up just to make URL’s shorter?