No More Optical Discs?

An editorial piece on Engadget laments the continued demise of the optical disc drive on Apple machines. It covers the first time we saw removable media disappear from Apple machines, specifically the floppy, and outlines why the CD & DVD is different. While I agree logically, that the CD & DVD have a different role than the floppy had (the floppy was about archival and data transfer, the CD/DVD is more about media and software installation), for me, I’m finding that the lack of a DVD drive on my MacBook air isn’t a big deal. I have one in a MacBook Pro that I use for development, but in the past year and half, I’ve only used the thing maybe 4 or 5 times. I’m actually considering replacing the DVD in my MacBook Pro with a second hard drive. When travelling, I haven’t taken a DVD or CD with me in years. All of the music I want to take with me is on my iPhone, and I haven’t used a CD in my car (honestly, I don’t even know if the CD player works, I’ve never actually used it since I bought the thing). I put movies and TV shows that I’ve purchased via iTunes on my iPad or on a MacBook. At home, I do watch a lot of TV shows and movies with my Apple TV. The games I have on the Mac are either from the Mac App Store now, or purchased via Steam, and the one game I do play that is still disc-only is one I generally leave at home, and I fully expect to buy it

Does this mean optical discs are dead? Not yet. For me, I still watch a lot of movies and such, at home, on DVD and Blu-ray. While I have downloaded a few games on my PS3, most of the games I play are on an optical disc. As the editorial points out, downloading data equivalent to the size of a Blu-ray disc would take an incredible amount of time, and blow the bandwidth caps of most households. It is cheaper and faster for me to drive to a store and purchase the disc than it is to download it, and I still have to find space for the downloaded data. The disc is self-contained, portable and reasonably durable.

Will there come a day where optical discs are no more? I certainly expect that to happen. For that to happen, though, will require a couple of things. First is increased bandwidth speeds and limits, both for devices in the home and for mobile devices. With that speed increase will also come cost decreases, if it follows the same path most other products and services seem to follow. Second will be access to massive amounts of secure, reliable storage. That doesn’t mean more storage on your home network or on mobile devices (although that will certainly continue to be the case). It can mean, in tandem with the bandwidth, easy and reliable access to some kind of network storage, known today as the cloud. There will still need to be a certain amount of local storage (on the home network or mobile device) to be able to cache data for offline access. We are a very long way off from having ubiquitous, cheap access to the Internet everywhere. Even with that, the reliability of Internet services still is nowhere near the level of something as prosaic as the telephone. As an anecdotal example, my high speed Internet from my cable provider was down again recently, and has done so a couple of other times in the past month. I’ve experienced close to 8 hours of network outages in the past 12 months, which is a far cry from the few minutes a year experienced by your basic telephone service (which is why I’m still reluctant to ditch the landline, but that’s another topic). I’ve also had outages and uselessly slow network conditions on my mobile devices, not enough that it’s debilitating, but enough that I remember it happening.

In the end, for me, the demise of optical storage on some of my computing devices doesn’t create any great inconvenience, but that’s me. I still need a DVD/Blu-ray player in the house, but I could easily live without the CD player in my car or on my laptop. But I know others that rely extensively on their optical storage, not just for movies, but for music and games. While Apple does what they can to try to influence the direction of technology, this change may not take hold for a while yet.