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Summary:

Apple doesn’t seem to want to keep physical media around that much longer, opting instead to distribute software and media via digital download. It’s a brave strategy, and probably one that most companies will eventually adopt, but in the meantime it could leave many consumers behind.

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Short a port for most Americans

Rumors of boxed software leaving Apple Stores and Apple’s push of the Mac App Store shows the company doesn’t think we need to install software via optical media anymore. There’s even a rumor that Apple may be ditching optical drives in the next MacBook Pro refresh and moving to a disc-less model that allows for thinner casings and larger batteries.

There’s also the fact that not a single Mac or iOS device ships with a dial-up modem port and a growing number of Apple devices include Wi-Fi (not Ethernet) as the only connectivity option. If you don’t have a wireless router, you’re just not going to be able get online (without third-party peripherals).

Yet, two-thirds of Americans are not using actual broadband internet service. In fact, the FCC states that 31 percent of Americans who have access to broadband won’t adopt it due to lack of need or a general fear of technology. Pew Internet Research found that over half of Americans don’t think broadband is worth it. This discovery stands out:

The report also finds that the 21 percent of American adults who are not online have little interest in going online: about half (48 percent) don’t find online content relevant to their lives, and six out of ten non-users would need assistant using computer or the Internet. Only about one in ten expressed any interest in starting to use the Internet.

Apple is often at the cutting edge of tech trends, but that means there is a market of users who want Apple devices in their lives but can’t have them because they’re not on a broadband internet connection. I was on a part time dial-up connection (capped by the hour) until 2005 when I moved to an area that had broadband, and my life as a Mac owner included a weekly visit to the library to do software updates and upload photos. The average consumer will probably just opt for a Windows device with built-in dial-up connectivity instead of making the trek.

Readers may note that the Mac’s price range means that most users willing to spend $999+ for a laptop likely already have broadband access. Some, however, especially older consumers, just don’t need broadband access, but would love to be able to take advantage of Apple’s reputation for quality and excellent design.

Apple devices don’t show your connection speed or bother you much about router connection problems. That’s because Apple makes an assumption that if you’re using its devices, you have a connection that can handle it. But, for Americans (and those in international emerging markets) without broadband, the Apple experience won’t be nearly the same as for those who do have it. While Apple is eliminating optical drives on their Macs, removing boxed software from retail stores and assuming we buy all our music via iTunes, a large number of people are going to be left out of this party, wondering why their purchase of iLife ’11 is taking 5 days to complete.

Is Apple missing the boat by ignoring these customers, or is the fact that some are getting left behind just a necessary part of Apple’s forward-looking product design roadmap?

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  1. The last time I installed software off of an optical disc was the Snow Leopard Update. Before that it was Adobe CS4. The optical drive on my MacBook seems to be going out and I am tempted to replace it with a second internal HD. Can’t really say I would miss the optical drive in the portables anymore.

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  2. Yeah, that’s good analysis. Let’s talk about today’s tech situation-and that of old people in particular-in reference to tomorrow’s computers.

    AYFKM? No one who is seriously in the market for a new laptop and would consider Apple is going to be missing these ports. The people you’re describing either don’t own computers, or haven’t purchased a new computer in years, and in either case don’t plan to change their situation before they die. So who cares? Apple has bigger fish to fry: like all the people buying new HPs and Dells, and companies that still insist on putting people on XP boxes.

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  3. Mictlán Trujillo Monday, February 7, 2011

    In my opinion, Apple does not need these customers, I think their strategy will work just fine for them. Because, just how you said, anyone that is willing to pay $999+ for a Mac, most likely already has a broadband connection, and that is the market Apple is aiming at. Of course, there’s a lot of people who buy Macs and don’t have that type of connection, but I believe these customers will disappear in time, and I even believe that Dial Up Connections will disappear, because it’s not just Apple who’s changing and setting technology standards as they usually do, but it’s also everything else in technology that’s changing and advancing.

    So I think they should keep it up this way.

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  4. Certain things don’t need to be an option. CD/DVD media? Forget it… an ethernet jack? a modem? There are devices that can bring that functionality I’m sure. Ethernet I do like, but there are cables that help when wifi fails me. I’d like to see built in 4G before an old style dial-up modem.

    Sometimes people need to be given a little shove to wake up to progress. I hear a lot of whiners about Apple dictating this and that. You know, more often than not Apple is right and these users are just lazy or incapable of change. Its one of the things I actually appreciate about Apple – they aren’t afraid to tell the world it needs to grow up.

    Grow up world… but if you need to stay in the 80s, buy a PC…

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  5. You still have options.

    http://www.greatarbor.com/products.html

    Though updates are a problem. Apple should provide snail mail USB drive OS updates :) Maybe not.

    Apple is looking at the future. At a time when the president is talking infrastructure and communication update every time he opens his mouth I think it is reasonable to build towards that goal. The majority of the people you lose are not going to pay for $849 (refurb) or are people who are bored and will sit on the customer support line all day eating away the profit margin. Apologies to every exception, but they REALLY do not matter.

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  6. I was just thinking more about this. What is the long term revenue potential for Apple, the company that one of two established electronic distribution channels for audio, video and HD, for giving physical media a final stab to the heart? It must be worth leaving these people behind. I know many will pout for a while. My dad is one of them who loves his CDs. Let them whine a bit. But the refurb outdated models. Let them hang on for 5 years… It is profitable to twist these people’s arms.

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  7. there’s a bigger pop. sector that wants apple but cannot afford them. If apple wanted to go mainstream, they should of course start from there, not trying to make it dumber. just cheaper. PLEASE!!! lol

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  8. Last time I checked, I was able to use an Airport Express from Apple to connect via dial-up here in Germany. Maybe a bit weird and slow, but overall it worked pretty well. But maybe this doesn’t work in the US.

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  9. AYFKM? Are you f__king kidding me?

    Apple, don’t take remove the Ethernet port. I always have a Cat6 cable on me because I enjoy the warm blanket of questionable reassurance resulting from my belief that hardwired is more secure and reliable.

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  10. No Ethernet? Duh, is anyone advancing this sort of idea actually thinking? People live and work in places other than large homes on 5 acre wooded lots.

    There are numerous work and relaxation venues where wireless makes absolutely no sense. Think of an insurance or banking headquarters where there’s a staff computer every five feet and a need for high bandwidth data and high security. Gigabit Ethernet can handle that easily. But there’s not enough radio spectrum, much less in the tiny slices allotted to WiFi, to handle all that data. And remember a recent Apple public event where some 5,000 wireless devices were in the same auditorium competing for a few dozen channels? Disaster.

    And that’s not even getting to the problems of ensuring data security when the data is being broadcast live in a 40-story, glass-walled skyscraper. Given enough time and data in the clear, any encryption scheme can be broken.

    No, what is needed is a replacement for the decades-old Ethernet connector. It’s big, clumsy and deliberately chosen by IT staff, in the era of desktop computers, to be hard to disconnect. That needs to be replaced with something (wired or optical) that connects and disconnects in a flash. And it can be quite small, so it takes up little space even on an 11″ MBA. Then Ethernet (or its replacement) makes sense.

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