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?


Add Yours
  • How about my music, photo and video collection? GB’s uploading in the cloud? No way. Music can be partly replaced with Rdio or Spotify, but video’s of my kids and photo’s of my wedding?

    • Yeah, the SSDs cannot fully replace the traditional HDDs in computers just yet, because our media libraries are starting to be so big. Do remember that Jobs hasn’t actually added a Blu-Ray drive on any Mac and is supporting downloadable content from the Internet rather (the iTunes way).

  • Apple wants everything to be controlled by itself. No way.
    I am already bought an external dvd recorder in case apple drop optical drive from new mbp.

    About 15 years ago, Sun Company, had a campaign telling all the people that ‘the network is the computer’.
    15 years later, we still use computers with power for our everyday tasks.
    So, apple wants the things this way, but I definitely believe that it will not go far away with these tactics.

    Existing stuff, compatibility issues, media distribution, cost of disposable media, privacy matters, all means there is a need for drives.
    Apple cannot assume everyone everywhere has fast internet or giveaway usb flash disks which costs dollars instead of dvd disks that cost pennies.

    Besides that, I want to be me who control my own stuff, not apple.
    And even if I am having 1tb hard disk, the need of dvd drive will exist.

    So, it is a wrong decision fro apple removing optical drive.
    They think this is good for apple, but people do not think the same way.

    • I don’t think it’s wrong for Apple to remove the optical drive. I think, personally, if you really need an optical drive, a MacBook Pro is probably a better solution ot your situation.

  • I would agree. With the mac app store, the inclusion of flash memory in the mba, and services such as dropbox, there’s really no need for an optical drive or large amounts of storage.

    I still occasionally burn a cd for my wife’s car, but only because she has no iPod hookup. I also had to used the disc sharing feature from my other mac to install CS4 and iLife (just bought on disc before the mac app store was introduced), but the install extremely smooth. When I upgrade these apps in the future I am sure I will not need to use the optical drive at all.

    I also recently bought a mba (13″/128GB/1.86 base model), and I can’t believe how fast it is. It’s definitely faster than my 17″ mbp from two years ago.

    I just can’t wait to see what the new macbook/macbook pro models look like when they finally arrive, and how much faster they will be if they included flash memory with an up to date processor. They are going to scream.

    • Well, the rumour mill says they’re coming very soon! (March 11th I hear)

      • Where does this rumour mill info come from? I am looking to upgrade in the next 6 months, but i seriously cannot find any decent information about the next release of mbp. if you have some knowledge i would love to hear it!

    • Wait? No need for large amounts of storage? I do need a large amount of storage. If the new MacBook Pro has no DVD-drive, fine, I can live with that, because I only need it once per 3-4 months. If the new MacBook Pro has a tiny SDD, I will not buy it, because I want to store things on my computers.

      The MacBook Air is more of a secondary computer where as people buy MacBook Pros are their only computer and perhaps attach an external monitor to it when they’re home, because to some people it goes really well for the main computer with the specs and it has the added benefit of being portable. What happens to those people if the MacBook Pro becomes Air2? Actually, wait, what happens to the Air if the Pro basically becomes Air? Why would they make their laptops resemble each other too much, when they can make the devices stand out on their own and gain a larger audience?

      • I still like the idea of SSD + HDD whereby your OS is stored on SSD but the bulk of your storage is on a spinning drive. I doubt Apple will completly eliminate HDD from BTO.

  • Maybe in years to come, but for now desktop apps are far more responsive.

  • seems to be that “Years to come” always translates to “Months to come” I’m pretty sure, like it or not, the cloud wins, 24 months down the line

  • Not likely in the next 12 – 24 months, nor anytime in the near future.

    Big business is very wary of cloud storage (security, reliability, stability), online software at this stage of technology doesn’t meet the quality and usability of conventional software, too much propriety, and the big issues — the majority of internet users do not have either reliable constant and fast internet or the bucks to pay for service, plus data packages, plus streaming plus storage, especially for multiple units.

    I suspect Apple’s plans for ‘everything in the cloud’ will have limited appeal, even to committed Apple fans.

  • This is all fine, but I wonder how things will work out with the pro app users. Apple has done a lot to push them away. Things like disc space, fast hard drives, and burning dvds are still vital for many of the smaller video production houses out there.

    They are some of the hardest to please (being one of them) and if Apple keeps neglecting that crowd like they currently are, I think they are going to lose some of their biggest supporters.

  • As much as I love the idea of putting everything into the cloud and having it accessible from everywhere, not everywhere has a decent internet connection, hardline or wireless. I live in Australia, and whilst I realise the market is nowhere near as big as America, there will be many places with poor internet for years to come. Plus as a big user of programs like PS and lightroom, I like having all my photos with me.

    I think if they took two lines, and extended their ideas for cloud in the mba one way, but continued to improve on the mbp with bigger and faster HD then there would be something to suit someone. they should try doing something that will benefit the regular consumer, not just their idea of the future

  • I have love – hate affair with this inevitable future.

    I knew this day would come, there’s no running from it. For whatever the neigh Sayers iPhone have proved that enclosed systems do work, more seamlessly than the opposite, that we are truly unable not to fall in love with. The whole world got obsessed with it or so proves Google Android, Palm & HP and now MS-NOKIA all embrace the inevitable.

    I hope there is gonna be a Zion to save the earth but it is
    Mr Anderson’s world.

    Welcome to the Matrix future!

  • The entire idea of storing movies and videos online and streaming them to a home tv right now is very dumb to me. It’s fun if you just want to browse YouTube, but we have just gotten to the point of hd tv’s becoming readily available in most household because they are now affordable. They provide picture qualities that are amazing. Yet, we want to stream these sub-standard quality movies to them from the Internet? The whole point of getting an hd tv is so you can view stuff in…hd. Blu-ray is not going anywhere until I am able to stream video of the same quality to my home system.

  • I think the power of the cloud is yet to be fully realized, and by that I mean our needs for speed, space and seamless integration and rising much faster than the cloud can currently keep up with. Until that changes, things will lead to this future only slowly.

  • I agree. There’s a way to go before something emerges to tackle some heavy desktop apps, demonstrated by the fact that so many startups are duplicating each other in terms of functionality (anyone want to create *another* invoicing app?) but the energy in that market is huge.

    I’m looking forward to something that can compete against Illustrator and Photoshop. The closest contended I can think of is Aviary.