The Future of Mac Might Leave Many Americans 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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