It probably won’t be this thin, but there’s a good chance it’ll be close, with a wedge-shaped design just like the MacBook Airs.
So when you walk into an Apple Store and see a MacBook Air, you’re looking at the future MacBook Pro. Except it’ll be bigger to support the 15″ and 17″ screens.
The way Apple can achieve a MacBook Air-esque design with their Pros is by doing two things.
First, moving to solid-state memory as a standard hard drive: these are smaller, thinner, and weigh less than spindle-based drives. Flash memory is what the MacBook Airs ship with, so it’s not a stretch to think that Apple will offer solid-state hard drives in their next generation MacBook Pros as standard.
Second, by dumping the optical drives, they’ll free up about 20% of the internal space. Optical drives are a huge, clunky component.
There’s good reason to believe Apple is going to ditch these drives, in part, because of the virtualization of their software. Not only did Apple announce last week that Lion will be available on the Mac App Store as a $29.99 download, with no option for an optical disc, but also, in a note to resellers, they declared boxed versions of iWork 09, iLife 11, Aperture, and others end of life. These will now only be available on the Mac App Store: no more physical versions.
This was a bold move that was a bit of a surprise. It’s one thing to make Lion virtual, but they’re doing it to most of their other software titles, too.
So if you don’t need discs to obtain software… if it’s all digital, then it’s one less reason not to have an optical drive.
But there’re more indications they’ll ditch the optical drive. Not only have their MacBook Airs been devoid of them since their inception, but Apple’s latest Mac Minis also have, too. So it’s not a new thing for Apple to offer a computer without one of these drives.
Even without the virtual software initiative Apple has taken, optical drives have been antiquated for me for the past several years. I can’t remember the last time I used mine on my MacBook Pro. Like many others I’m sure, I’ve just been downloading/streaming all of my software, music, and movies.
Now that the Internet, fast connections, connected mobile devices, along with aggregated services like iTunes, Netflix, the Mac App Store, and others have hit critical mass, downloading software, movies, music and TV shows is more the norm, rather than buying this stuff on physical media like CDs and DVDs.
For all these reasons, it’s a no brainer that Apple’s going to forgo the optical drives in their next-generation MacBook Pros. When these new units are going to hit is anybody’s guess, but we’re going on 3 years with the current design, so I’m sure it’ll be sooner, rather than later.
You’d think Apple might be worried it’d alienate users accustomed to optical media. But this is simply Apple, once again, skating to where the puck is going to be, rather than to where it’s been.
Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, had some amusing things to say about the concept of software being shipped in boxes to stores in an interview in 1996 on Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires. About how absurd it was compared to how easy it is to download software from the Internet.
I hate the PC with a passion. Me going down to the store and buying Windows 95, I’ve got to get into my car drive down to a store buy a cardboard box full of bits you know encoded on a piece of plastic CDROM and you bring it home and read a manual install this thing – you must be kidding you know, put the stuff on the net – it’s bits, don’t put bits in cardboard, cardboard in trucks, trucks to stores, me go to the store, you know, pick the stuff out, it’s insane. OK I love the Internet – I want information you know it flows across the wire.
I don’t think Larry is going to have to drive anywhere to buy boxed software for the next generation MacBook Pro. It’ll all be at his fingertips, resting on a super-thin, super-light, optical-driveless machine. The rest of the PC industry will eventually follow suit. Within a few years of the optical-driveless MacBook Pro’s launch, many PC laptops will be bereft of them. The manufacturers won’t have a choice. They’ll have to compete with Apple on weight and thinness.
We’re about to witness the death of the laptop optical drive. It couldn’t come soon enough.