30 Comments

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.

  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.

  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.

  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…

  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.

  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.

  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

  8. Florian Pichler Monday, February 7, 2011

    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.

  9. Hornet Montana Monday, February 7, 2011

    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.

  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.

  11. People still use dial-up on that large of scale? Huh…
    I couldn’t imagine using dial-up. That’s like choosing a cd player over an mp3/4 player.

  12. Let’s look at this from another standpoint:
    I’m surprised that dial-up is still out there, when it doesn’t actually cost a fortune (especially for businesses) to have WiFi. I’m one of the minority that doesn’t run WiFi in my house for security and transmission reasons. Plus, if you’re in my house and need WiFi, I can configure my router to allow guest access. As far as software goes, in most cases, what you’re spending your money on is the Trial version of the software, whereupon you enter the key and it “turns it into the full version”.

    For most folks out there, the optical drive is merely a backup option.

    As far as the PC comments go: Most PC owners are either business owners/partners or students. Gamers tend to use PCs as well, but they customize the hell out of their rigs.

  13. This article only tells a slice of the story. Apple doesn’t sell into the very low end of the market, so why does it even matter?

    You can easily buy one of Apple’s older Airport base stations for $25 and connect wirelessly, over a telephone line via 300 Baud if you want, so where is the limitation?

    Apple obviously sells a USB Ethernet adapter (for $29) if you can’t afford $40 for a fast wireless router. So again where is there a limitation?

    The author needs to remember Apple “pushes society forward”, they aren’t concerned with carrier pigeons, or using smoke signals to communicate.

    Obviously optical drives are being phased out, that’s why Apple will never support blu-ray… it’s a dead end. Apple brought optical drives (and floppy drives) into the PC market, now they are taking them out.

    So great times are ahead…

  14. Andrei Timoshenko Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    Did Ford need to go into the business of breeding horses because at one point some people did not see the point of having a car?

  15. Try downloading something really big via boardband, like PhotoShop Creative Suite. Just PSCS is bad enough but the ENTIRE suite of applications. Won’t happen.

    People would have to buy USB optical drives which may be the plan. It allows Apple to reduce their cost, not change the price points and that equals more profit.

    1. One other issue, how does Apple propose users install a new OS on their system? If they are also eliminating boxed software are we to download the ISO image, burn that to disc and then install it? Without a supplied drive?

      Ya, Apple seems to be shifting the cost of the drive to the user and not thinking about functionality here.

      And if I could live without a wired network connection I would. Try renting a TV show from iTunes (HD version @ 1.4GB) and download that through wifi. 6 friggin hours. Via wired network, 30 mins. Big difference there. I know because it happened this weekend and the wifi was N, got G so it should have been faster than 6 hrs.

      1. On the new MacBook Airs, OS X installation is done via a USB drive.

        You can see one on the tech specs page:
        http://www.apple.com/macbookair/specs.html

      2. don’t know what connection u have… but here I have an Connection of 60mbps/sec…

        Trough Wireless Support with my Time Capsule I download HD Versions at 4.5GB in just a couple of minutes…

        Don’t blame it on apple but ur ISP

      3. Don’t know which connection u have from ur ISP but I download at 60mbps trough wireless….

        Download HD from 4.5GB in just a couple of minutes over my Time Capsule…

        Don’t blame apple blame ur ISP

    2. You can easily download the Adobe Master Suite via broadband, it only takes 20 minutes at most. The OS can be booted and reinstalled from USB stick, so that is no longer a problem so it’s good Apple is working hard to get rid of optical drives. Everything is online nowadays, so why keep them around?

  16. There are some very disturbing statistics here when compared with Europe’s adoption of broadband. For instance, in Finland a broadband connection is a right. Something is telling me America is going to be left behind in more than just using Apple’s products.

  17. Interesting. I believe everyone complained when they removed the Floppy drive. “What will we do without a floppy drive??!!” now who even remembers what a floppy drive is?

    I have the new MBA, I used my Optical drive 1 time. To install windows on my Parallels… I have never had an issue with finding WiFi, and for that “just in case moment” and the reader below noted, I have the USB to Ethernet Adapter, I only used it 1 time. When I was migrating my G5 to my MBA.

    Love it or hate it, Apple does what they want. Follow or dont follow. But lets face it, at the end of the day, they usually wind up Paving a new Path of which most ultimately follow. Mac and PCs alike…

  18. I can see that in someways removing the disk drive is good, and I suppose we did survive moving from Floppy and ZIPs to CD/DVD’s; but that was moving from one ‘hard’ media to another not going totally download-wize.

    I can see it going that way in a few years or so, but not now, some people in the UK (like me) have sometimes not even got 1 megabit/s (and that is not because I cannot afford the highest – that is the highest in my area!), It took 4 Hours for the 10.6.5 update, I would quite happily download an ISO and burn the image (if the possibility was there, but there is no way I am waiting 4+ hours for a download), but I suppose this would, I suppose, reduce the costs as well.
    But I feel that at the moment Apple cannot get rid of all ‘hard’ media and not offer an alternative (e.g. USB would be a great idea and temp. solution – like for install of SL on the MacBook Air)

    I think getting rid of the Ethernet ports would also be a bad idea for MacBook Pro, I run a server (on a MacPro) at home for all my files, and I like to access them on the Mac’s in the other rooms, I wired the house for Gigabit Ethernet, so now all my Mac’s (apart from the MacBook and MacBook Air) are ‘hard wired’ to the gigabit switches, this is so much faster than the G or N technologies available in Wireless hubs. I always think, if the possibility is there for a Gigabit (or 10 Gigabit) connect (even if wired) then use it!

    1. You can always add an ethernet port via Apple’s USB Ethernet Adapter, so it’s not going to be a problem if you are still stuck with cables.

      1. But the fact is that some people (like companies) want Ethernet built in, you imagine a company buying a £1000+ desktop/laptop to install onto a network, they will not want to be buying a USB adaptor for however many they buy, and the adaptors do cost £25 each, so after you have got just 40 adaptors that’s £1000. Also more to the point, the adaptors are only 10/100BASE-T not 1000, so no possibility of Gigabit (or 10 Gigabit), Ethernet is still very alive! And a lot of Mac’s have had gigabit Ethernet for a very long time, my first PowerMac had it on, so that means a 10-11 year old PowerMac will have faster connectivity than a modern produced Mac!

  19. the writer of this article is thinking of the mass market – non apple users. As he says, two thirds of Americans cannot use a new Apple. That leaves only 100 million or so that can… hmm I think Apple would be super happy with that penetration. I think Apple also believes that with the next generation there will be more and more that will want, need and demand as a right WiFi. So where’s the problem?And if you want prof, look what happened in the telephone market…
    In under developed countries, they skipped the entire step of developing land-line infrastructure and went directly to wireless – and flourished.

  20. I have 2 Macs and I love em, but the day that Apple removes DVD drives from their Macs will be the day that I have bought my last Mac. I have hi-speed broad band so that is not the problem.

    I will not put myself in the position where I am forced to buy all software from Apple, and anyone with half a brain can see that that’s the other shoe that drops as soon as a few million people have Macs without drives or the means to connect to an external drive.

    I also have thousands of photos, both scans of old work and recent digital work, all stored on double sided DVDs,
    and I am not the only one. I would remind Apple that OSX is no longer the only good OS since Windows 7 and and several Linux versions are vastly better than they used to be.

    The scenario of Apple with only a broadband connection and no internal DVD drive Will be a nightmare for a lot of Mac users and ultimately for Apple itself.

    1. Apple has a Dual Layer USB DVD Drive, so it’s not going to be a problem for many years from now.

  21. This seems to be a typical US issue among all so called “industrial countries”. In Sweden for example, I had dialup in 1994 for four years, when we switched to a permanently connected ADSL-connection. The US as a whole are so far behind regarding IT-issues it’s ridiculous, no offence. Apple can’t slow down just because the US is behind, it’s too expensive to give up the other markets that demands more up-to-date products.

    1. No, the US is the most advanced in terms of fast internet connections, (we invented the internet don’t forget) you can easily buy 100Mbps home connections and 95% of people are on broadband, what this article is talking is extreme remote areas.

      You are forgetting Sweden is a tiny country, so it’s easy to get broadband everywhere. But we are a VAST land space, so just try getting an optical cable 1000 miles through solid rock into Northwest Nevada, good freaking luck!

      Yes, Apple has never been about appealing to the lowest common denominator, but cut the US some slack, we will always be the center of the fastest internet connections.

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