Why Macs Will Never Get Blu-ray

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Ever since 2008 when Blu-ray and HD-DVD were battling for consumer mind share, Mac users have been speculating about Apple’s next optical drive technology. Since 2001, SuperDrive has been Apple’s name for DVD and CD burning optical drives built into or available in every Mac sold, and now SuperDrive is standard but Apple doesn’t mention it anymore because it’s not that big of a deal to include in Macs. Almost every PC manufactured today has this.

The MacBook Air was released in 2008 with no optical drive, which started a flurry of rumors about Apple’s thoughts on where we were going as Apple mentioned the irrelevance of optical drives since content was available via iTunes and the web and you only needed one for installing software since even backups could be done over the air with Time Capsule. Apple still sells a $99 USB SuperDrive for the MacBook Air for people who need one. As a Macbook Air owner, I have never needed one since all of my software was installed via the web and all consumable content (movies, music and podcasts) are all available in iTunes.

The two most notable technology visionaries of our time, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, have both weighed in on Blu-ray since it became the standard physical media for  high-definition content so I thought it would be beneficial to provide their quotes here before I give a bit of my thoughts.

Bill Gates gave two very powerful quotes on the subject. The first:

“Well, the key issue here is that the protection scheme under Blu-ray is very anti-consumer and there’s not much visibility of that. The inconvenience is that the [movie] studios got too much protection at the expense consumers [sic] and it won’t work well on PCs. You won’t be able to play movies and do software in a flexible way.”

and:

“For us it’s not the physical format. Understand that this is the last physical format there will ever be. Everything’s going to be streamed directly or on a hard disk. So, in this way, it’s even unclear how much this one counts.”

[inline-ad align=”right”]The note of it being anti-consumer is frankly a matter for any digital content these days. Movie studios will have their DRM on any future media that they control whether you get that content from Microsoft, Apple or built into a disk that you put into a dedicated player. DRM is the current reality unless you pirate it, but Gates’ comment about Blu-ray being the last physical media is very important. Gates actually said this in 2005. Yes, five years ago. Gates said this long before YouTube was a house hold name and at a time when the iPod with video was a brand new product and before the Apple TV. Of course, Microsoft had its home theater software built into Windows XP, but if you look at how we consume media today, it’s apparent that he was on to something.

Then, in October 2008, Steve Jobs gave his thoughts on Blu-ray with one line:

“Blu-ray is just a bag of hurt. It’s great to watch the movies, but the licensing of the tech is so complex, we’re waiting till things settle down and Blu-ray takes off in the marketplace.”

Of course, Blu-ray has taken off in the marketplace but Steve hasn’t changed his tone very much in the last year and a half. An email response from Steve Jobs last week mirrors Bill Gates’ comment in 2005 and reiterates Apple’s stance on Blu-ray and pretty much sums up why we’ll never see the technology included in future Macs:

“Blu-ray is 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.”

After the customer sends an email response to him again stating Blu-ray has a purpose for use of system backups and high-density storage or the distribution of home movies Steve adds:

“No, free, instant gratification and convenience (likely in that order) is what made the downloadable formats take off. And the downloadable movie business is rapidly moving to free (Hulu) or rentals (iTunes) so storing purchased movies or TV shows is not an issue.

“I think you may be wrong — we may see a fast broad move to streamed free and rental content at sufficient quality (at least 720p) to win almost everyone over.”

The rise in broadband speeds paired with the fact that you can download a movie anywhere in the world (with a cell phone connection) to your mobile device and it’s clear that Steve simply doesn’t see a point in Blu-ray being included given the complications of licensing it and echoing sentiment into Bill Gates’ opinions of DRM via the new format.

Steve thinks that with a Time Capsule or an online backup system (like SugarSync and Mozy) paired with YouTube for sharing video and iTunes at the center of it all with media consumption, the industry has made Blu-ray obsolete before it even makes it to Mac machines and I agree.

I once thought Blu-ray was a key addition to have on my Mac and now that I have a Mac without an optical drive, I don’t miss it. Everything I own is synced to my iMac and MacBook Air over the web in real-time, my iPhone and iPad can purchase movies and they download over the air and I can share a movie with my family that I shot and edited on iPhone 4 and uploaded to YouTube within one hour compared to burning and shipping a Blu-ray disk to them. Blu-ray is something a lot of pros want but it’s out of desire and not true need.

I’m not a professional filmmaker and I’m not working for a movie studio, but DVD Studio Pro and products like Toast from Roxio support Blu-ray if you buy a drive separately and plug it into your Mac. Apple just won’t be shipping support for the technology anytime soon and it may never include it in its machines and I bet that most consumers are okay with that.

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