The Future of MacBooks

When the new MacBook Air was introduced the other day, Steve Jobs stated “we see these as really the next generation of MacBooks. We think all notebooks are going to be like this one day.”

This statement had me pondering yesterday about what I’d like to see in the next MacBook Pro. Some achievable near-term, and some arriving at a little longer outlook.

The things that really distinguish the MacBook Air from the MacBook Pro line, as far as hardware is concerned, are the absence of a hard drive and an optical drive. In substitution, the MacBook Air utilizes a solid-state drive for storage, and forgoes the optical drive entirely, unless you care to purchase a USB-based external optical drive. Apple reduced the price of their external optical drive from $99 to $79 the other day. Also, the MacBook Air (or any recent Mac, for that matter) can also borrow the optical drive from another Mac or PC on the same wireless network, which is pretty neat.

Now, I use a 15-inch MacBook Pro as my computer. It does everything for me. And when I think about it, I rarely use the optical drive. Maybe once or twice every six months. Most software I buy/use is downloadable. Soon that will be the status quo, with the Mac App Store coming soon.

I would gladly give up a built-in optical drive in my MacBook Pro in favor of occasionally needing to plug in an external one. That space in my MacBook Pro could be used for more battery, or even making the entire computer a little thinner and lighter. For the frequency I use it, the optical drive is dead weight.

As for reinstall media, or even new versions of Mac OS X, we’re already seeing the future with the MacBook Air’s USB reinstall drive.

MacBook Air Reinstall Drive

As for the hard drive…that’ll be around a while for MacBook Pros, I imagine. High-capacity SSDs are still too expensive to hedge out a 500 GB hard drive any time soon. But I bet as soon as SSDs are cost-effective at high capacities, the hard drive will get nixed from MacBooks in general.

In the interim, it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple took a “best of both worlds” approach to storage by offering a small SSD on the logic board, along with a hard drive. The idea being that Mac OS X and its bundled apps are stored on the SSD, while user data and other apps are stored on the traditional hard drive. This hybrid drive system would allow for the instant-on advantage for the system, while not sacrificing storage for those that need it. Heck, Seagate already sells a hybrid drive that aims to do such a thing.

The times are changing. I won’t be surprised if Apple retires built-in optical drives from its entire portable line soon. And once SSDs are cost-effective, say farewell to them as well.

I, for one, can’t wait for this future of MacBooks.