Apple Kills The CD, But Portable, Offline Media Is Still Important

by Randy Murray on October 27, 2010

Apple is once again the harbinger of death to what is currently a ubiquitous technology. They’ve done it to the floppy disc and now they are doing it to the CD.

Is kill too strong a word? I think not. When Apple (and by Apple I mean Steve Jobs) takes a dislike to something, few Mafia Dons can respond with such visceral hatred and call for more “extreme sanctions.” In my view, the CD is a technology marked for death.

First, let’s take a simple move, the recent change of the iTunes application icon. The new icon removed the CD from the image and became a blue circle with musical notes. Apple took some heat for this, and it’s generally not a good idea to change a product or business logo, as The Gap recently learned, but Jobs personal shrugged off the public commentary and now, just a month later, it’s mostly forgotten. Jobs also recently commented on Blu Ray technology saying that it was “looking more and more like one of the high-end audio formats that appeared as the successor to the CD — like it will be beaten by Internet downloadable formats.”

Then last week Apple introduced the Mac App Store and the new version of their super light and thin laptop, the Macbook Air, and this time there are no CDs needed. They even supply the restore software on a tiny USB drive, not a stack of CDs or DVDs. And this time, no one complained about the Macbook Air not having a CD drive. Why? Because many people never use the drives on their laptops, especially those who use them exclusively for work.The CD drive is really a significant problem for increasingly smaller laptops. It is a mass of moving parts. It is one of the things most likely to break on a laptop, become jammed, create heat, noise and vibration, and, perhaps most important, take up a significant amount of space in the shrinking frame. If you remove the drive completely, as Apple did, you can increase the battery capacity as well, a very useful tradeoff.

I find that I use the CD drive on my desktop machine very rarely. I don’t watch movies on this machine. I rarely import music from CDs – most of that has been long completed and new music mostly comes from downloads. I buy software online and when the Mac App Store comes online it will be even easier. I expect that desktop machines, even the iMac, will continue to have CD/DVD drives for a couple of generations, but soon, perhaps in less than three years, they will be relegated to add-on peripherals and then slowly disappear, like the floppy drives before them.

And frankly, good riddance. Once written to, the CD is fixed, which does have some archival uses, but the lifespan of the CD is far too short to be useful as true archival media. I much prefer portable media that can be reused.

But we still need removable and portable media. I’m not talking about external drives, but small removable media, like the USB flash memory drives. And we’ll continue to need them for the foreseeable future. Why?

  • Offline media are more secure. They are not subject to the whims of companies or governments.
  • Offline media let you control your own data.
  • They are a key component of a thorough backup plan.
  • “Sneakernet” often remains the fastest way to transmit very large files. Even shipping a drive overnight can be faster than transmitting its contents over the net.

I do foresee a future where the current crop of USB drives is replaced with more advanced small, cheap, offline portable media storage devices. And once again, it’s Star Trek that’s already designed the future for us: the Isolinear chip. I fully expect to carry around individual chips and devices that incorporate them,  providing thousands of terabytes of data storage.

You scoff? My first Mac, purchased in 1987, had 1 megabyte of memory and 10 megabytes of storage. My iPad has 64 gigabytes of storage. That’s right:  6400 times the storage in less than twenty-three years — and at a fraction of the purchase price.

The Apple Kills The CD, But Portable, Offline Media Is Still Important by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mari October 27, 2010 at 8:06 am

Our MacPlus, 1987, had a 20 mb HD. One of our fave Mac stories is that the salesman told us it would take “forever” to fill it up. Arrivederci CDs.


Ronn October 27, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I think the real reason that Apple (Steve) wants to do away with CDs is revenue based. Steve doesn’t want you to purchase a CD with music on it and have an easy (relatively simple) way to get it onto your computer and into your portable devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc). He prefers that the ‘simple’ approach for getting music be making the purchase through iTunes. Which, it just so happens, increases his revenue. Pretty ingenious if you ask me.


Randy Murray October 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I suspect that’s correct. If Apple gets a cut of all of the music you buy, all of the TV shows and movies you watch, and now, all of the applications you buy, then they do very well.

That’s why I’m very long on Apple stock!


Rafal October 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I agree with your view but I wouldn’t say Apple is revolutionary in their step to remove CD drives.
Laptop makers have been doing this for a while. We’ve recently bought a new laptop for my wife almost all we looked at were with out CD drives.
Where Apple is ahead is the recovery and backup where they give you usb stick with necessary software. PC makers still need to learn that. All you get is recovery cd which you can’t use unless you’ve bought external drive!!. It’s a nasty surprise when your system crashes.


Randy Murray October 27, 2010 at 6:41 pm

True, but Apple’s combination of the changes to iTunes and the Mac App store will seriously accelerate the CD’s demise.

I applaud them for including the recovery memory stick. I bet we see even more in the future.


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