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

Lucas Mearian
13 June, 2012
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Tuesday morning’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 industry trend towards SSD-only systems that use cloud-based storage services.

Pricing for Apple’s top-end MacBook Pro starts at $2499 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 1.8cm thick, weighs 2.02kg 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 also announced on Tuesday 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 Forrester Research analyst Andrew Reichmann.

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's new Retina MacBook Pro's Flash SSD compared to Hard Drive in performance.

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 percent 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.

“It’s interesting. SSD in the MacBook Pro is definitely going to increase the volume of SSDs shipped in the world and that will have a downward impact on pricing,” Reichmann said.

“Essentially,” Reichmann continued, “Apple is a vendor of SSDs with lots of shiny packaging around it. Really what they’re selling you is a place to put your music, photos and emails with dramatically improved performance.”

Despite an uptick by competitors this year, Apple will continue to dominate tablet NAND buying in 2012, with a 72 percent share of flash gigabyte shipments. By 2015, Apple will continue to account for a majority of tablet NAND buying, according to IHS iSuppli.

Apple’s acquisition last year of Israel-based solid-state drive (SSD) manufacturer Anobit Technologies will give the company a significant technological boost in the mobile market and is likely to yield huge cost savings.

According to Reichmann, Apple’s iCloud service is among the top three highest capacity cloud services, along with the Amazon’s S3 and Microsoft’s Azure cloud services.

Other Windows-based laptop manufacturers will likely be forced to follow suit and begin offering all-SSD machines with access to native cloud services, Reichmann said.

The changes can come in different ways.

Hybrid machines – systems with both a hard drive and solid state drive – will help keep product prices down. For example, a lower-capacity SSD can be used for loaded an operating system and applications, while a high-capacity hard drive can still be used as its mass storage device, Reichmann said.

Regardless of price, however, having a hard drive may be seen as a disadvantage in the future.

“If Apple can nail the cloud, then having a huge hard drive on board in any system is much less valuable. Hard drive adds weight, expense and risk,” Reichmann said. “Remember, you’re walking around with all of your data, as opposed to having it in a cloud that may be more secure.”


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