Since the launch of the iTunes Store, it seems that Apple has been one of the most notable supporters of the movement to digital distribution. What began as music eventually became music videos, podcasts, movies, TV shows, games, applications and now desktop computer software.
That said, it's easy to see the pattern–Apple is pushing for fully digital content distribution. Let's take a look at some of the steps Apple has taken, or is known to be taking in this direction:
1) Leaving behind boxed software
Earlier today we heard that Apple may be taking steps towards removing boxed software from their store shelves. It's a rumor for now, but it's not hard to believe. Aside from the software that Apple doesn't sell (such as Adobe's Creative Suite and Microsoft's Office Suite) it doesn't sound unlikely. Most of their applications are already available on the Mac App Store for a lot less than the boxed counterparts. It's available instantly, and billed directly with little to no hassle via the Mac App Store. The install is automatic as well. Currently, clicking on the "Buy Now" link on Apple's website takes you to the Mac App Store rather than a place to purchase the software in-box.
What's missing is their more professional software such as Final Cut and Logic. Those may remain disc-based given their size, but that, too, may end up being for a totally different market than the rest of us (like the people who buy the Mac Pro).
2) Dropping optical drives altogether?
We've touched on this before. When Steve Jobs announced the current MacBook Air, he said that Apple expects all notebooks to one day be like it. What he meant was solid state storage and the lack of an optical drive, among other things. That gives users two options for disc-based media, drive sharing or the Mac App Store. Truth be told, it's been quite a while since we've used the optical drive in any of our computers. It seemed far from the case just two years ago, but now it's rare to need to use a disc for something on our machine. If Apple makes all their future notebooks like this as they seem to believe it, we are one more step closer to all-digital media distribution.
MobileMe is Apple's cloud-based service for their users. It's a paid service, but you are able to store your files on the cloud and pull them up on any of your Macs or iDevices. Again, this is another push towards an all digital future. Right now its hard to imagine a world without USB sticks, but for some of us, that may be in the past as it's sometimes much faster to just open your Dropbox folder or MobileMe.
4) Data Center
Apple isn't building those huge billion dollar data centers for nothing. It's said that the data centers in North Carolina will be used for cloud access to your iTunes library. It's also possible that this is being used for improved streaming capabilities of iTunes rentals. Another likely scenario is that they are simply expanding their power to keep up with their increasingly popular online storefronts. Hey, it's not cheap to pay for bandwidth when 10 billion Apps are downloaded.
5) Rumors of NFC Technology
Another rumor that just won't go away is the near-field communication technology being built into the iPad 2 and the iPhone 5. That's not hard to imagine given that Google's Nexus S already has such tech built-in. NFC is not being used in the US aside from a few test markets from what we've heard. Still, it's probably going to become increasingly popular in the near-future. This would be great for Apple as it would eliminate the fee paid to credit card companies for every purchase made with an iTunes-linked credit card. In the grand scheme of things, this eventually be used with retailers as well. Rather than having to carry around a plastic card or your wallet, your smartphone may be your one-stop media device for everything you need while on the road.
More In it for them
Another reason Apple wants this? It means more money for them. Yup. That's the truth of it. So maybe we still pay the same amount, perhaps even less. Still, they like digital content because it cuts back on other costs associated with traditional methods of distributing software. No more packaging or pressing all those DVDs. They no longer have to bother designing a box if they don't want to. Steve Jobs has always been kind of a green guy as far as we know, and it makes sense that the dude would also want to see things go paperless. That will earn them points with the environementalists while raising their cashflow.