In our cloud-powered age, DVDs, CDs meet demise

This grand story about computing and business strategy started off as a personal shopping travesty. I had recently decided to replace my MacBook and its myriad distractions with the new iMac. I clicked on the emailed link to the new iMacs, marveled at the impossibly thin device, and hit the blue “buy” button. Just when I paused to consider the financial consequence of my impulse, I realized what was missing: the slot-loading SuperDrive.

As it turned out, it wasn’t just the iMac. Apple had killed the optical drive across the board, including the iMac, the Mac Mini, and the Retina MacBook Pro, with only the regular MacBook Pro surviving (besides the Mac Pro, which nobody cares about). One has to purchase an external SuperDrive at $79 to load CDs and DVDs, but a traveler like myself would refuse to bring a free-hanging external drive on to a train or plane.

Why, you ask, did Apple do that? One reason is Apple’s obsession with elegant, or, slim design. Ironically, an example of this obsession is the very birth of this slot-loading SuperDrive that Apple just killed. According to Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, two weeks before the iMac’s first premier on May 6, 1998, Jobs obsessively toyed around with the final version of the blue, gumdrop-shaped iMac G3 for the first time. He was happy and excited until he hit a button and a tray slowly extended under the screen. “What the **** is this?” He shouted and paced. It was a bulky, unintuitive, and inelegant design, which he replaced after going to great lengths (to Tokyo, to be exact) to acquire this rare slot-loading technology that we have today (or had yesterday).

Besides design, Apple has a more important reason behind its decision: to further implement its “digital hub” strategy. With iPods, iPhones, iTunes and iCloud, Apple has already transformed billions of former pirates into honest citizens who consume through a central content management system and marketplace. The most obvious result of this strategy is Apple’s shiny bottom line: the sale of one product encourage that of another because of their connectedness. This enables Apple to save marketing dollars. For example, one would expect a MacBook owner to have the iPhone and the iPad instead of owning Android devices. It makes Apple a “sticky” brand—moving to Android means losing entire content and connectivity. In our case of killing optical drives, removing CDs and DVDs simply means forcing the last few CD and DVD shoppers to surrender to iTunes or Google Play. Since Google doesn’t manufacture phones or tablets, and Samsung doesn’t get commission on a song sold on Google Play, this forced migration would only benefit Apple and its stocks in the long run.

The PC users among us then ask, should I panic because PCs will follow the footsteps of Apple and deny my inalienable right to CDs and DVDs? We probably won’t see that in the short run because it doesn’t make business sense for PC producers. Even so, a few manufacturers, like Asus, have already followed suit, but only to imitate Apple’s slim design. The undeniable fact, however, is that disks are becoming obsolete. We now watch movies on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video; my designer friend uses the Adobe Creative Cloud, and my roommate plays downloaded games on Steam.

Plus, who doesn’t use Google Docs or Moodle? As cloud computing (content syncing across devices) becomes a fact of life, the “compact” disk has become “bulky” as a small-volume storage device. The only gap that exists between the Cloud and the disk is the Internet speed, which will take only a few years to close.

Apple has again shown its resolve to embrace the inevitable and create the future. Apple’s decision will offend, well, everyone with a CD or DVD library. We will perhaps hear the Class of 2017 whine about not being able to watch Mean Girls on DVD after buying their expensive Macs. For the rest of us who collect classical or jazz CDs, our kids will refuse to inherit them in 60 years. But don’t feel sorry for Apple, because Apple is not here to make friends—it’s here to mold the future. Apple will keep telling you what you want, and you will eagerly hand out your money,  like Philip J. Fry. In the meantime, get ready to declare the disk (including the Blu-ray) as dead as VHS.


—Phil Chen ‘16 is a student at Vassar College

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