Apple's all-flash MacBook Pro, iCloud drive industry changes

The MacBook Pro now comes with a 768GB SSD option, and automatic access to Apple's iCloud services

Today's announcement that Apple's top-end MacBook Pro won't have a hard drive -- the new ones will run only solid-state drives -- marks the latest, and perhaps most important move in an an industry trend towards SSD-only systems that use cloud-based storage services.

Pricing for Apple's top-end MacBook Pro starts at $2,199 and includes a 2.3GHz quad-core chip, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD. Apple also announced 512GB and 768GB SSD MacBook Pro models.

The new MacBook Pro is 0.71 inches thick, weighs 4.46 pounds and uses Apple's latest Retina display technology.

Apple also announced a 512GB SSD option for its MacBook Air netbook, which doubles capacity from the previous 256GB maximum flash capacity.

Apple Monday also announced that its iCloud online storage service will be included with its laptops, doing for data and applications what the iTunes service did for digital music.

From here on out, anytime a user signs into a new MacBook Pro or Air with their Apple ID, the systems will automatically configure apps to work with iCloud. Anything stored in its cloud will be accessible on any other devices with the iCloud download.

The combination of SSD and cloud should be a powerful driver of laptop systems, said Andrew Reichmann, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Large hard drives will no longer be considered an advantage in laptops, as higher performing machines store frequently accessed data locally and everything else in the cloud.

Apple is currently the world's largest consumer of semiconductor technology. Apple currently uses NAND flash in its iPad, iPod, iPhone, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines. The iPad alone accounted for 78% of global NAND technology shipments in 2011.

According to IHS iSuppli, Apple's iPad tablet is expected to dominate worldwide demand for NAND flash in media tablets at least through 2015.

Ryan Chien, an SSD and storage analyst with IHS iSuppli, said today's MacBook Pro announcement is not as significant as last year's MacBook Air redesign or Intels Ultrabook introduction because the SSD-equipped MacBook Pros are very premium products.

He said the MacBook Pro's use of SSD really won't "move the needle" in terms of the competitive landscape for PC storage or flash procurement, "as NAND usage from SSDs is far outpaced by smartphones and tablets."

"I believe what today signifies is a reaffirmation of Apple's commitment toward an aggressive Mac roadmap, and another step in aligning its computers with the runaway success of its mobile devices," Chien said.

"And, increased SSD penetration on the Mac side is key to helping accentuate the unified Apple experience across all client devices in terms of performance and capabilities," he added.

The aggressive move into SSDs also sets the stage for deeper implementation of device-agnostic systems like iCloud and AirPlay, Chien said.

Keith Shaw talks with Computerworld News Editor Ken Mingis about today's Apple announcements at the Worldwide Developer Conference, which included new MacBook Pro hardware, MacBook Air notebooks and updates to OS X and iOS 6.

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