The Future of Notebooks: What Does It Mean for Software?

Steve Jobs worked his reality distortion field last October when unveiling updates to their Mac product line. The MacBook Air was one major part of that announcement and it was later cited as one of Apple’s financial successes for that quarter. Maybe it was all of us Apple fanatics buying it, or maybe it was Apple’s superb marketing that touted it as “the future of notebooks”.

Whether this is true for the whole industry or not, Apple has shown it has a keen interest in removing optical and traditional hard drives from machines with the MacBook Air. With all due respect to those who don’t like it, Apple has done a pretty good job at removing the need for these pieces of hardware with the Mac App Store and iTunes.

Apple’s Commitment

Apple already has made significant commitments to removing the need for physical media and copious internal storage. Whilst Apple’s iMacs start at half a terrabyte of storage, the MacBook Air starts at just 64GB. That’s quite a significant difference, but I guess Apple thinks you don’t need a lot of storage to experience OS X to the full.

First, Apple has removed many people’s need for an optical drive by introducing various blockbuster stores over the past few years for music, video, and software. They’ve also invested significantly into the North Carolina data centre, which many believe to be the home of an iTunes streaming service. If Apple does indeed bring in a streaming service, it will renew Apple’s roadmap to reduce physical storage.

MobileMe is also poised to supposedly “get a lot better” this year. This would complete the other half of the relationship with media. Constantly syncing data and documents allows you to keep everything online and makes everything so much more convenient, with no need to transfer documents around devices.

The Future of Notebooks

A major tentpole feature in “the future of notebooks” is solid state drives. These are costly, but the significantly faster read and write speeds actually help out those lowly-clocked CPUs to increase overall speed and performance. SSDs are an inevitability in Apple’s future portables, and are not only highly successful in the aforementioned MacBook Air, but also the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

There are various reasons that Apple want to do this, due in part to their excellent relationship with SSD manufacturers. They’ve been putting these things into the mobile devices for years, and seem to be able to negotiate excellent pricing and distribution deals for notebook hard drives as well.

The MacBook Air is a pioneer of the so-called future.

Predictions: Software

So what does this mean for software? Well, Apple has already had massive success with the Mac App Store and we can only see that growing. As the need for optical drives deplete, so will their occurrence in products. In that respect, I would expect to see digital distribution of software becoming the de-facto standard over the next 12-24 months.

That said, we could soon find that most of the applications we use on a daily basis are based on the web, rather than the desktop. Already, web-based services such as Google Docs are replacing their desktop brethren, and I’m sure that over a longer term, Apple’s intended upgrades for MobileMe (and possibly their service) will play an important role in this transition.

In a nutshell, I think that “the future of notebooks” could well imply “a future without desktop software” because tying together Apple’s efforts, Google’s Chrome OS efforts and the upcoming wide availability of low-capacity, web-connected tablets, suggests that the user will find it more convenient to base their computer use predominantly on the web rather on desktop apps.

Not only does the cloud eliminate the need for local storage, but it also means if your computer fails, or you want to access something on another computer or device, there’s nothing to do on your part. It’s all in the cloud.


I’ve covered two main issues today: streaming, and cloud-based productivity. Both Google and Apple are poised to potentially release streaming music services this year, Netflix is still growing, and I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time watching streaming content from places like CNET or YouTube.

As long as you have a strong internet connection, there’s no need for much physical storage. And this lack of need allows for smaller, but insanely fast drives to be utilized.

Then you need to look at what you do on your computer. For many people (granted, not all) this often constitutes some light browsing, writing, and working with your photos. For most of us, that’s the scenario, and there are a lovely range of cloud-based alternatives that provide the convenience of syncing across devices.

So in my opinion, the future of notebooks in the long-term could be the death of desktop apps, purely because there are reliable and elegant solutions available elsewhere than your hard drive. Either that, or we can expect desktop apps that are much more significantly integrated into the cloud.

What do you think?