With the release of the new MacBook Air, Apple is not only continuing it’s tradition of not including an optical drive but they have taken steps and given us hints that future Macbooks may not contain optical drives.
This time around instead of shipping physical media so that you can reinstall your OS or applications they’re including a USB dongle with the software on it. Have a look at this screenshot to see what I mean.
The fact that downloadable music and streaming TV/Movies from iTunes is becoming one of the most prevalent methods of acquiring content these days, the need for optical drives are steadily becoming obsolete. I would’t be at all surprised if the 2011 MacBook/MacBook Pro refresh removed the optical drive in favour of more battery capacity or perhaps a second HDD/SSD drive. After the release of OSX 10.7 (assuming Apple hits their shipping deadline) I can certainly see the inclusion of this USB software/OS reinstall dongle instead of physical media.
Of course, they’ll probably continue to ship future OSX releases on physical media but it can’t be long before Steve Jobs says something to the effect of, “people don’t need CDs anymore.”
One last thing I wanted to point out, I’m an avid audiophile and musician and support my local Metal music shop and still buy most of my music on CD. That said, I still would welcome optical drives being phased out and would rather just have an external drive for the odd occasional I would need to rip a CD.