Apple unveils iPad Mini and publicly executes the optical drive – Should you care?

Apple unveils iPad Mini and publicly executes the optical drive – Should you care?

Apple’s October 23rd event didn’t just unveil the iPad Mini, it buried the optical drive.

RIP optical drive

R.I.P. Optical Drive

As I sat down to watch the live stream of Apple’s October 23rd event, I was eager to see the new MacBook models, as well as various other upgrades to the iMac and Mac Mini lines. But the big enchilada, the one thing we were all anticipating, was the iPad Mini, a new iPad that is 2/3rds the size of the iPad 2 while remaining about as powerful under the hood.

Starting at $329, the iPad Mini may be a bit more expensive than most had hoped, but given the increased convenience of a smaller device — with a 7.9 inch display as opposed to the iPad’s 9.7 inches — the iPad Mini is sure to be found in places even the full-sized model can’t go. As excited as we were for this new iPad, however, I felt a twinge of guilt at what I’d seen during Apple’s presentations of their new Macs. I couldn’t help but notice that Apple was publicly killing the optical drive.

The new 13 inch MacBook Pro with Retina display doesn’t have one, the Mac Mini lost one a while ago, and the MacBook Air never had one. On top of that, the new iMac is now 5mm thin — a feat achieved by, you guessed it, removing the optical drive. “What does Apple have against the optical drive?” I wondered. Try as I might, however, I really couldn’t recall the last time I personally used mine. So why should I care?

We should care because the optical drive is useful for booting from when something goes wrong with the computer’s hard disc. You can also use it to watch movies and burn CDs or DVDs. And it’s still useful for copying a music CD to your computer for importing into iTunes, something we often overlook as being a big deal.

As important a role as the mp3 format, iPod and iTunes played in the digital music revolution, the one thing that almost no one recalls is the role the compact disc played. If the music industry hadn’t introduced this convenient, high-quality format, we might not be where we are today.

In the days before Napster and iTunes, the only way to get music on your computer was to rip it yourself. Think about what would happen if we were still relying on the analog format of records or tapes; not only would digitally recording music to your computer suffer from the lower quality of analog, but you’d have to do it in real-time. In other words, if it takes 44 minutes and 28 seconds to listen to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” it would take you at least that long to record it to your computer’s hard drive. Now multiply that by the number of albums you probably own — that’s a lot of time! With CDs and optical drives, we were able to reduce the time it takes to import an album down to seconds rather than minutes. But, of course, this is all ancient history. These days, we just download or stream everything.

With the ubiquity of USB thumb drives, cloud storage and digital distribution, we almost don’t need the optical drive for anything, anymore. While the optical drive does still have some life left in it, if getting rid of it means thinner devices with fewer moving parts (and less that can go wrong with them), then perhaps this really is time to say goodbye. So long, optical drive. Shine on, you crazy diamond!