On the iMac Hard Drive Thing

Marco Arment, on the recent changes to Apple’s stance on replacing iMac hard drives:

The iMac is a very clear, known tradeoff to the types of geeks like us who would even think about replacing its internal hard drive ourselves (or having an unauthorized place do it to save money or add unsupported parts):

You get a beautiful, slim, all-in-one, high-end Mac, with one of the best LCD panels on the market built in, for a very good price relative to PCs and an excellent price relative to the other Macs. For these benefits, you give up all after-purchase internal customization, expansion, and self-repairs, except RAM. If you want a more customizable desktop, you can either get a Windows PC (which, if you want a Mac, isn’t an alternative), you can spend a lot more money for a Mac Pro, or you can just deal with the iMac’s limitations.

As one of the geeks who want to — and actually can, thanks to years of being a certified Apple tech — swap out hard drives in my iMac, I find this change hard to swallow, but Marco’s right on how Apple views and positions the iMac to its customers.

I love OWC, and have been a customer for years, but I have a problem with this statement:

Is this planned obsolescence at work, or is the freedom promised in 1984 being revoked?

The original Macintosh was viewed by Apple as an appliance, a simple box that functioned without the user having to dig around inside the case. Frankly, I’m a little surprised it’s taken this long for Apple to make such a move with the iMac. The glass panel and display are a pain to remove, and even more of a pain to clean for replacement. Once inside, the machine isn’t a piece of cake to work on.

I think the iMac is in a different category than the MacBook and MacBook Pro line. On these models, replacing a drive is actually quite simple. I’m not sure that will change in the future, even though the Air and the iMac are basically “hands off” at this point. Hell, the new MacBook Air’s crazy SSD module is so foreign to most users, they won’t even attempt it.

I think the only reason Apple would make such a change in its non-Air notebooks would be for performance. If they can apply custom firmware to squeeze more speed out of a spinning hard drive, I’ll think they’ll go for it.

But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they won’t.