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Apple to Bid Farewell to Disc Drives?

13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro. Image source: Apple.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) will soon bid farewell to its last computer with an optical drive, according to DigiTimes. While 9to5Mac says DigiTimes "doesn't have the best track records" with rumors, ditching the non-Retina version of its 13-inch Macbook Pro would make sense for a number of reasons.

Simplifying product portfolio ahead of new categories
Ending production of its 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro later this year would not only mark the end of disc drives at Apple, but it would also mean Apple could finally have an entirely Retina MacBook Pro lineup. Apple discontinued its 15-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro last year.

Perhaps Apple's plan for products in new categories in 2014 is sparking efforts to consolidate older product lines. Further, a recent report from The Wall Street Journal asserts that Apple will be launching products faster and more frequently in the future, a move that would also support the idea of simplifying existing product portfolios. Whatever the reason, it's simply a logical manufacturing and marketing step that shouldn't surprise investors.

Further, the move reinforces just how fast preferences change in consumer electronics. In late October 2012, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, said the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro was Apple's best-selling notebook. In another example, one study in October 2013 by Localytics reported that the popular iPad 2 still made up the lion's share of Apple's tablet sales, at 38%. But the launch of Apple's iPad Air and its Retina iPad mini quickly changed that. Now, Apple is getting ready to discontinue the legacy, non-Retina iPad 2 according to AppleInsider's source that is "familiar with Apple's plans."

Apple's Mac business is still important
While Apple's iPod business is clearly fading, with first-quarter unit sales down a whopping 52% from the year-ago quarter, Apple's older Mac business is firing on all cylinders. In fact, in Apple's first quarter, Mac unit sales and revenue saw faster year-over-year growth than Apple's iPhone and iPad businesses. And at 11% of total revenue, the Mac business is still meaningful to the company's results.

Apple's dramatically redesigned Mac Pro still hasn't caught up with demand. Shipping estimates on its U.S. website say April. Image source: Apple website.

DigiTimes report of a planned discontinuation of Apple's non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro was accompanied with a prediction that Apple "will replace the product line with thinner models equipped with a Retina display." In light of Apple's successful Mac business, refreshed models would likely be valuable for the company.

Cannibalization of its own products has always been a strategy Apple takes on vigorously. "If you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will." Apple's ability to rapidly cannibalize its important Mac business suggests Cook is still taking Jobs' policy seriously.

Apple investors should happily wave goodbye to optical drives and embrace better technology.

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  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2014, at 4:37 PM, WineHouse wrote:

    I switched, after 22 years of nothing-but-PC experience, from a PC (Windows XP) to my first-ever Mac in August of 2012 -- got myself a 13-inch non-Retina 750GB HD MacBookPro. At the time I made my purchase, the only laptops Apple was selling that had solid-state drives were the MacBookAir 11 & 13 inch models, which I played with in the showroom before making my purchasing decision. The Airs at the time only offered limited storage capacity (I think 128GB was the maximum available, and that was more expensive than my MacBookPro), and the cute little 11 inch one didn't have an SD slot. But what really kept me away from the solid-state drive units at the time was the newness of it all. Who wants to buy the first version of the newest thing? There are bound to be glitches that need to be worked out, right? And how long would the SSD's last? How reliable would they be? Only time would tell, and I didn't want to be a guinea pig. BUT -- those Airs were exciting to play with because, in terms of responsiveness, they were lightning-fast! My MacBookPro is fast compared to my old (2007) SonyVaio in many ways (start-up, responsiveness, etc.), but the Airs on display were even faster. For portability, the advantage of an SSD over a mechanical hard drive is obvious (not to mention the light weight of those Airs).

    Fast-forward a year and a half, and things have changed quite a bit. The SSD capacities are greater, the SSD's have proven themselves, and if I had waited a year I would definitely have gone with an SSD model. I didn't wait, since the old SonyVaio was driving me nuts (continual Windows updates ad nauseum, start-up increasingly slower and slower as Norton 360 took longer and longer to do it's thing every morning, and finally the hard drive started to make more noise than I wanted to hear).

    I'm not surprised that they're closing the door on the old mechanical drives. Even the top-of-the-line Mac Pro is 100% solid-state drive now. Mechanical drives are going the way of the dial telephones. Whoops -- never heard of a dial telephone? I'm afraid I've given away my age. :-)

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 11:57 PM, Charismatron wrote:

    Bravo, Winehouse!

    Your comment is better and more entertaining than anything produced by Motley Fool. I usually regret clicking their links, but this comment saved me from the drudgery of what MF usually produces.

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 1:18 PM, JoeLemon wrote:

    The SSD has been out a couple of years by the time the mac air was out. I've had a SSD in both my laptop and desktop for 4 years now. I put them in myself you couldn't buy them with it. SSD will not be a replacement for a long time they are just way to expensive. Hybrid hard drives are what is going to be popular for the next 5 years.

    The reason Apple is getting rid of drives isn't because people don't want them. They are doing it so everything has to be bought from itunes. They want a cut of everything, so the price of software will go up. Microsoft wants to do the same thing that is why they created the stupid Metro.

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 1:38 PM, moremilk wrote:

    the article is fairly confusing, but I think they meant optical drives, not HDDs. All imacs still use mechanical drives, and will probably continue to use them for at least one more year until the price for solid state drives drops to more manageable levels for the 512GB models.

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Daniel is a senior technology specialist at The Motley Fool. To get the inside scoop on his coverage of technology companies, follow him on Twitter.

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