Is Apple about to kill the SuperDrive on Macs?

Apple has decreed death to 32-bit apps on Macs. But with DVD player, QuickTime 7, and CD/DVD authoring apps stuck there, what's the future of the Mac SuperDrive?

Apple, Mac, SuperDrive, DVD, CD, OS X, macOS, 64-bit

Apple has decreed death to 32-bit apps on Macs, but DVD Player is now the only remaining 32-bit application included within macOS High Sierra’s already 64-bit default software stack.

What is Apple planning?

You can check which of your apps run in 32-bit in About This Mac>System Report>Applications where you’ll find a column called 64-bit. Click this, and you’ll see which apps don’t yet run that way.

Apple’s DVD Player is one of these 32-bit apps, even though notes around the software claim it was last modified in the most recent macOS release — despite the version number being unchanged since 2015.

This modification failed to extend to 32-bit support. And that’s bad news because it means an essential software component used by thousands of Mac users to watch video on their machines has no future.

Rip, mix, burn

Not so long ago in 2001 Apple launched an iMac with the slogan “Rip, mix, burn.” Those systems had two big claims to fame: iTunes and a CD-RW drive, as well as Internet access built inside. A few years later, Apple introduced Apple TV, a “DVD player for the 21stCentury,” as Apple’s Steve Jobs termed it.

Things have changed since then.

I guess it’s easy to argue that with so much media content streamed or purchased online these days, there’s less need for an optical drive than there once was.

Mac users with extensive libraries of DVD classics and music loving Mac fans with huge collections of CDs, some of which aren’t available online, will likely disagree.

DVD sales still reached over a billion dollars in 2016. Sure, that’s down 20 percent on their peak at 2015, but those numbers still suggest a lot of people still use physical media.

Media consumers aren’t the only group of people that may need access to a DVD burner. How many enterprise execs still zip around with presentation slides on a DVD? How many movie editors like to burn early edits to DVD for feedback and sharing? There’s even a powerful case for using DVD as part of a Mac user’s backup strategy —but that’s going to be of little use if you can’t access content on those DVDs.

What about the SuperDrive?

These days, the only way to get hold of a DVD reading/writing optical drive is to invest in a $79 Apple SuperDrive — and if you use a modern MacBook Pro equipped with Thunderbolt 3, then you need to get a USB-C to USB Adapter to connect the device to your Mac.

This lack of compatibility at the high end of the Apple-verse is surely a clear message that the future of the Apple accessory doesn’t look bright.

To be fair, Apple’s isn’t the only external DVD burning/playing product you can get, and a glance at the 87 one-star reviews its accumulated at the Apple Store don’t exactly fill one with confidence. However, even when purchasing a third-party DVD/CD drive system, you must beware because many such devices simply aren’t supported by macOS, though Macworld UK has a few suggestions here.

Where’s the love?

This fate isn’t entirely unexpected.

Apple’s been phasing out optical drives in its Macs since it introduced the MacBook Air in 2008. The last model to include one was the 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro Apple sold until October 2016.

DVD Player isn’t the only Apple app that’s not feeling 64-bit love from the company, QuickTime Player 7 and iDVD 7.1.2 are also also stuck at 32, and third-party disk-burning solutions seem similarly abandoned. This suggests Apple has no intention of even enabling system support for third-party CD/DVD authoring solutions.

If that is the case, then Mac users hoping to use or burn DVDs or CDs will have to find alternative software (such as IINA) and/or (potentially) new hardware solutions to do the job. It also seems probable we’ll see increased second-user prices for Macs equipped with built-in SuperDrives.

What can we do instead?

Apple introduced something called Remote Disc Sharing when it launched the 2012 MacBook Pro. This lets you use an older Mac that has an optical drive as a remote disc player, which you can use to access data and play movies (but not audio). You can also choose to make virtual copies of DVDs you need to keep around on another Mac that has an optical drive if you have access to one.

However, with literally millions of CDs and DVDs still sold every year, it would probably be useful for many Mac users to learn exactly what kind of future they should plan for when it comes to playing and writing the CDs and DVDs they may already own.

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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