January 6 2009

Mac Mini – The Forgotten Apple Child

mac miniDid I somehow miss the announcement of new Mac Minis at Macworld?

While I was writing up the Macworld keynote address for StarterTech, I was anxiously awaiting to hear all about the new models of the Mac Mini.

… I’m still waiting.

The Mac Mini is a Mac that comes with no keyboard, mouse or monitor and is perfect for people like myself who want to transition to Mac, but don’t want spend over a thousand dollars on an iMac.  The Mini was last updated in August of 2007 with two models that ran $599 and $799 respectively, and are still available in the exact same configurations that they had at that update.  So, now you are paying the same price for hardware that is woefully out of date as seventeen months might as well be a decade in computer component terms.

Over the past two weeks I have suffered two vicious malware attacks on my work PC that have cost me a combined total of 20 hours to repair.  I was all set for an updated Mac Mini, as just about every Mac rumor site agreed it was going to happen today, but, alas, it didn’t.  There wasn’t one word spoken about the only true entry level Mac computer.

I know I have said in the past that I was finally ready to switch to a Mac out of frustration, but this time I actually had my money at the ready… literally.  I had been saving for a new Mac Mini and was ready to order it this afternoon when it was announced, and yet it never came to be.  Why in the world has this poor, forgotten child of the Mac family been looked over yet again?

Apple continues to boast about how their market share has grown, and thay sold a record number of Macs last year, but they continue to forget about those of us who are nervous about switching.  With Windows Vista now being about the only option on new PCs, and Windows 7 looking as another iffy system, now is the time for Apple to strike and gain a huge portion of the installed user base.  Yet they continue to churn out $2800 laptops like the 17″ MacBook Pro they introduced today.

People always tell me that when you work out the math that Macs don’t cost that much more, but I decided to do a comparison.  I tried to rebuild a 20″ iMac as a Dell computer.  I went with a Vostro 220 Mini Tower, and copied the processors, the  amount of RAM, the hard drive size, one optical drive bay and so on.  When I was all done, the iMac was $1,199 and the Dell I configured was $679.  Gee… which wins?

In these economically difficult times, we need the Mac Mini, or something similar.  Apple is going to have to continue to have an entry level unit for the converts and the totally new customers alike.  I know Apple makes good stuff, I own multiple iPods, but as someone who is responsible for multiple computers, I have never been able to rationalize spending the money that Apple wanted me to.  If they want to continue to keep their growth going, they are going to have to consider what they can do to lure in budget minded buyers.

I’ve often speculated that maybe Apple fears growing too big, but with the success of the iPhone, and it now being introduced at Walmart, that is a difficult argument to stand by.  I have also wondered if they did this as to make their buyers feel like they were members of some elite club… again I point to Walmart and the iPhone.

So what is it, Apple?  Why do you shun the Mac Mini like it is the child you never wanted, and meanwhile you also shun your average day buyers who are cost conscience.  Wake up and smell the coffee, Apple, you could have a market share that dwarfs your current one if you would just try to remember the lower end purchasing market once in a while.

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  • Like you, I'm just waiting for a new Mini with cash in hand, but Apple doesn't want my money. When I complained about the lack of Mini update to an Apple investor, the response I got was, "it's just not a priority for them." It must be great to be so well off as a business that you can ignore a demographic just hungering to buy your product.

    • Rumor is the new Mini is still coming, but no one seems to know when.

  • I think the reason is they don't want to draw attention to their entry-level, and be seen as the "premium" option. I can understand that because they are doing well without a "race to the bottom" price war, but I don't think a Mac Mini *would* be going into a cheap market as it has its own unique market space – it could be positioned as a premium "under the tv" DVR/media server device (like a super-Apple TV), rather than a cheap Mac?

    • That is quite possible, and I have heard of many people doing just that, even to the point of rigging them to fit on the back of their TVs out of sight.

  • I believe the mini has evolved into the Apple TV device. Not sure if that evolution was intentional or accidental. Either way it happened and Apple appears content with the change.

    As for budget minded consumers — I think that label is a little limiting. Most consumers aren't "computer enthusiasts" and therefore view the computer as just another household appliance. The basic view is that what they buy today will be obsolete in a matter of months and therefore paying a premium price for a glorified "toaster" just doesn't make sense to most consumers.

    Without a doubt Apple makes a beautiful computers but they are not less prone to annoying problems than a PC. While some believe that buying a Mac will rid them once and for all of frustrating computer problems, that belief is based mostly on a myth generated by good marketing.

    Apple or PC, it's a personal choice. There is no "superior" machine" there is just personal preference. The only difference is price and style, which begs the question, "Is more style worth nearly twice the price?" Again, the answer is purely personal.

    • I'm a fairly recent switcher (MacBook), and I can say that there certainly are *less* problems, and Apple has been good at fixing them thus far too. Their OS is a pleasure to use as well. After 9+ years on Windows, I couldn't believe what I had been missing out on. No, it's not immune to problems, but there certainly are less of them.

      One thing that really bugs me though is the way the OS hides .htaccess files. It's very frustrating.

      As for pricing, I've found that the desktops certainly are more expensive, while the laptops are competitively priced.

      • Good to hear from a recent convert! I'm sticking to a desktop idea, but if they go much longer without a new Mini, I will have to consider it.

    • For 3 years I had someone in my office who brought his own Mac in because that is what he was used to. It was an older model, somewhat outdated, and in those 3 years I counted him having exactly -1- problem that took him about 30 seconds to fix. From my personal experience being around them, they are less prone to problems.