Sharing ideas with the world

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sealing the fate of optical disks

9:12 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal No comments
In 1998, Apple signed on the demise of floppy disk drives by removing these from its iMac range of computers. The company had its doubters then, but it carried its way forward. Eventually other major PC manufacturers followed the suit, and now floppy disks are nowhere to be seen (though some PC makers still support it). The problem with floppies was that they were bulky and outdated technology. It was relatively easy to get rid of floppy drives, because the shift from floppy disks to CD drives - though a big one - was not a fundamental one. We were still talking about disks.

Come 2010 and Apple does it again. This time with optical drives (CD/DVD). Apple launched MacBook Air in 2008; it was an ultrathin laptop, without an optical disk drive. This was Apple's first step - from the disk towards the cloud. Then in 2010 Apple released iTunes 10 and changed its logo, dropping the CD. This was a strong symbol of how Apple saw the future. And then came the masterstroke - launch of the Mac App Store. The app store along with iTunes means that almost all needs of a computer user regarding software, songs, movies etc. can be sufficed with no need for an optical disk. And in cases where the software or song you want is with a friend, you can get it to your laptop using external USB drives or some online file-sharing software. This three-step strategy to remove consumers' dependency on CDs/DVDs is applaudable. Apple not just removed the optical disks from its laptop, but also provided a better alternative. In fact, if you think about it, when was the last time you used a CD in your laptop. I can literally count the number of times I had to pop a CD in my laptop. With everything available online and with websites offering virtually unlimited data storage facility, you can spend months before you need any optical disks.

However, it will still not be easy for Apple this time. It is a fundamental shift this time - we are talking about moving from optical disks to clouds. These disks, though bulky, hold large amounts of data - specially the new Blu-ray format, and are fast (unlike floppy disks). And with massive investments in optical disks technologies, players such as Sony will not let these go away easily.

Business reasons aside, it is highly certain that optical disks will face the fate of floppy disks, possibly a decade from now or hopefully sooner - with USB drives (or some other advanced and compact technology) taking over. In this power struggle, the only true winner will be the cloud - the all powerful, omnipresent cloud. We will be able to access our information anywhere anytime on any device, and will not have to worry about losing our memory stick or scratching our DVD. The question here is not if it will happen, rather when will it happen. For now, we know that the fate of optical disks has been sealed.