One Week Later: Mac Mini Still A Good Thing?

by Gregory Ng Jan 21, 2005

I don’t think anyone was surprised that the “headless mac” was revealed at MacWorld last week. But true to form, Apple had some additional surprises about the headless mac up it’s sleeve. The Keynote Address was like an effective infomercial and Steve Jobs was Ron Popiel—the buildup to the reveal of the actual product was well-paced and well-rehearsed. And once the Mac Mini made it’s entrance, the “but that’s not all” factor kept on coming into play. When I first saw the Mac Mini my jaw dropped to the floor. And then when I saw it sitting next to an iPod Mini, my jaw dropped further. And when Mr. Jobs held up the packaging like a “Little Brown Bag”, my jaw dropped even…well you get the picture. But like Renée Zellweger in Jerry Maguire, the Mac Mini had me at “hello”. The small size and simple design are gravy. I just wanted a sub-$500 iMac and it looks like I got one.

But is it everything I had hoped for? The short answer is no. The longer answer is I really wish it came with a Superdrive and Airport Extreme pre-installed.

iDVD and the ability to burn DVDs are the cornerstone to Apple’s “Digital lifestyle” concept and critical to the success of iLife as a complete suite of products. With the release of the new iLife, this missing specification is a letdown. Apple has a chance to make a good impression with new users. What type of impression does it give when you say, “Take advantage of Apple and the iLife suite of applications but sorry you can’t burn DVDs.”? More and more computers (PCs and Macs) now come pre-installed with DVD burners. The price of component DVD burners are dropping. Higher quality DV video cameras including Prosumer High Definition cameras are becoming more commonplace. These factors have caused a need to archive bigger files and have in turn driven costs of DVD-R media down. Apple normally overdelivers in situations like this. It is puzzling why they chose to leave this out. A Mac Mini with a Superdrive built in would send a message to switchers that Apple is at the forefront of technology and the needs of their users. But that’s not all…offering a Superdrived Mac Mini would convince current users to purchase a Mac Mini too.

Apple proclaims on the Mac Mini web page, “Imagine… a desktop computer you can easily move from your study to the kitchen on a whim. Mac mini won’t break your back when you want to shuffle things around.” Nothing would promote this positioning statement further than to include a pre-installed Airport Extreme Card in all Mac Minis. Without an internet cord to worry about, you can truly move your computer easily.

So why hasn’t Apple gone the extra mile on supersizing the Mac Mini? The answer is certainly not because of size restraints as you can have a Superdrive and an Airport Extreme card installed when ordering. The only possibility I can come up with is profit margin. It’s tough for me to criticize this one: if I was making the decisions,  I would always make decisions based on how much money I can squeek out of the customer. Most likely, staying below the $500 price point was top priority. Makes sense. But like the iTunes Music Store, this might be another example of Apple needing to break even to gain marketshare. Apple says they don’t make money on the ITMS but they do it because it aids in selling iPods. Adding Super Drives and Airport Cards wouldn’t necessarily have meant losing money, a Superdrive means more iMovie projects which leads to more iDVD projects, which adds up to more DVD media. An Airport Card means Airport Base Stations and Airport Expresses. Most importantly, giving new users the ability to take full advantage of iLife right out of the box could very well convert these users for good. This means a customer for life. What’s more profitable than that?

Is the Mac Mini still a good thing? Of course. But if Apple added two more “but that’s not all’s”, the Mac Mini could be a great thing. How successful will the Mac Mini be in switching PC users? Time will tell.


  • The mini is pretty price competive.  I haven’t seen any $500 computers with DVD burners or wireless.  Just my 2cents. 

    jaded had this to say on Jan 21, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I appreciate your comments, but I think this is more akin to quoting the price of a car without mudflaps and floormats.  It makes the price seem more reasonable, but nobody ever buys it that way.

    One tactic I have discovered is pretty standard (and probably not just w/ Apple) is this menu pricing type scheme.  When I purchased my 15” Powerbook - the starting price looked pretty good, but after adding BT. Wireless, RAM, upgraded harddrive, superdrive, and 128 VRAM I had priced a completely different machine.

    In other words - they do this on other systems - it’s standard MO.

    The one thing that does irk me about all the pricing comparison talk between PC and the mini is that “they” are completely ignoring the software package that ships with the mini - which is worth a couple hundred dollars itself.

    SQLDba had this to say on Jan 21, 2005 Posts: 3
  • SuperDrive is a $100 BTO option on the AppleStore, so it IS possible to burn DVDs on Mac mini.

    But you’re right, the $599 Mac mini SHOULD have a SuperDrive built-in (a huge mistake from Apple’s part, as I’m sure lots of customers would pick up the $599 over the $499), as I’m not sure that a 80GB HD over 40GB or 1.4GHz over 1.2GHz is really worth the $100 dollar difference.

    Another mistake is the skimpy 32MB Radeon 9200, a 64MB Radeon 9700 would give the Mac mini a game-console appeal AND leverage Tiger’s forthcoming ImageCore and VideoCore features (Radeon 9200 is underspecced for those components), surely a case of Apple’s fear that Mac mini would cannibalize the iMac G5.

    To anxious to please the stock-market, Apple would nevertheless benefit in the long run as Mac mini could be picked up in the 10s of millions, as I’m sure that a beefier Mac mini would definitely give a much needed “Halo” effect.

    I love the form factor and the whole philosophy of the Mac mini, but the first incarnation is a bit short in the tooth. Same could be said with iMac G5, Geforce 5200 Ultra is frickin’ TWO YEARS OLD!

    I’m waiting for stronger GPUs before shelling out for either Mac mini or iMac G5.

    At least worth 4 cents…

    robertemslie had this to say on Jan 21, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I appreciate the comments. To SQLDba’s point, it IS like quoting the price of a car without the mudflaps. Superdrives are upgrades. My point however is how much more of a splash into the low priced computer market Apple would be if they sold the car with the mudflaps standard. Not something expected, but certainly something impactful.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Jan 21, 2005 Posts: 54
  • The lack of the higher end components could signal a lack of confidence in being able to support a break-even product.  I’m not an apple person and never have been.  I have four x86 machines up 24/7 at home and have not seen any competitive cost/performance blend that was enticing enough to try a mac out. 

    The mini has me interested.  It is faster than my friend’s G4 (?) laptop, which serves him fairly well.  It is also small enough to be nearly unnoticed next to my physically dominating PC setups.  For apple to add the features most will add, the price point would be out of consideration for me. 

    As a 5th (!!!) computer, I don’t need the latency and insecurity of wifi on a desk-bound computer.  I’m not eager to pay more for a BT keyboard and mouse, and I burn DVD’s just fine on my primary XP box.  If it has KVM outputs, will read DVD’s (if not write them), and has at least 10/100 ethernet and USB 2.0 / 1394 (which is cludgy on my PC’s, and annoying with all the 1394 periphs I have), then it’s a possible choice. 

    I can and have made a functional analog from PC components for a couple hundred dollars with leftovers and mid-range parts.  When you add in the OS and other software needed, it’s closer to $400 or more.  AND they are full or micro-atx, which are larger, louder, and clunkier.  That’s where the difference lies.

    IF apple would take the plunge and levy dominance in the iPod market on the mini ‘problem’, they would increase market share and develop a larger following in the personal computer arena.  The problem is that they gave us a chevette, and we want an SUV.

    ResqAndy had this to say on Jan 21, 2005 Posts: 4
  • the problem is that the mac mini is not for you.  Its for people that have a single old pc and are tired of the problems associated with running the xp operating system.  People curious about ilife programs and who just want a web surfing and personal productivity machine that works really well.

    And there are millions of those people.

    Anyone that has multiple windows boxes and a lot of technical expertise will want a larger mac. 

    I dont understand why you think this machine should have wireless built in…  most people are going to hook it up to some kind of broadband via the ethernet.  For the few who do not, wireless is a cheap option. 

    This is not a machine for the gaming crowd.  It will run 90% of the games on the market just fine, and that additional 10% wont matter.

    And pressing dvd’s is a pretty high end option… most people attracted to this machine are not going to care about the superdrive.

    The real apeal of this machine is for people that made the mistake of buying a pc when they really wanted a mac…  but could not afford it.  Now they can and they can use the monitor and keyboard from the pc on a cheap machine. 

    I think its a brilliant move and it will be wildly succesful with its intended audiance.

    which is not you.

    winterbear had this to say on Jan 21, 2005 Posts: 4
  • IMHO if you consider the recent history of Apple, I can see the Steve Jobs roadshow (said with all do respect, if you ever watch a Bill Gates keynote after a Jobs keynote Gates is snooze city) announcing a mini with superdrive at his next keynote at the $599 mark.

    ibooker had this to say on Jan 21, 2005 Posts: 2
  • As I said, I come from the world beyond Apple’s gates, but I’d question the utility of many expansion slots as well.  It seems that with every major evolutionary step the last series either is totally gimped or barely plugs along.  I put the first OS X onto an employer issued iBook (teacher friend) and it cripple the poor thing. 

    I guess my expectation is more of a inverse upgrade.  If Jobs is all about releasing millions of minis into the neophite and curious enthusiast market, there had best be a SIGNIFICANT amount of effort devoted to keeping new releases and revisions polished enough that they will be functional. 

    Give people a value priced and unobtrusive option, they will come.  Tell them they need to replace it 1.5 years later at 3 times the cost, they’re putting it on ebay and getting that $499 Dell P4 2.8 w/17” LCD (that the enthusiast will eschew for an Athlon 64 homebuilt anyway).

    ResqAndy had this to say on Jan 22, 2005 Posts: 4
  • I keep hearing the cheap Dell being raised as an alternative. Last I heard Apple is still making the Macintosh and therefore have complete quality control. Companies like Dell tend to farm out their cheaper models to other companies and then put their name on it. I purchased a Dell Inspiron 7500 about four years ago only to discover later that I could have bought it cheaper from the company that actually manufactured it. As a side note the Dell ran best when after three years I removed windows and installed Xandros Linux.

    ibooker had this to say on Jan 22, 2005 Posts: 2
  • ResqAndy:
    The first version of OS X was had a much slower interface response than OS 9. Every version of OS X since then has actually _improved_ speed in almost every area. 10.3 runs better on old iMacs than 10.2 did, and that was better than 10.1, which was faster than 10.0.

    Keep that in mind - your example was of an essentially beta product, unlike the really usable 10.1+.

    Krioni had this to say on Jan 23, 2005 Posts: 18
  • Ok, I was relatively unaware of the improvements.  Sounds remarkably similar to Microsoft’s upgrade plan…

    I take issue with ‘beta’ releases going to test in a end-user release, I don’t care who the vendor is.  I was happy to be able to walk away from that iBook disaster and let her take it to the district’s IT people.  Hopefully Tiger won’t have the same issues…

    ResqAndy had this to say on Jan 23, 2005 Posts: 4
  • tiger wont have the same issues…  the problem with macosx 1.0 and 1.1 was the way it was developed.

    MacOSX is a port of NextStep Mach based unix system with some cute mac like UI on top..  The first version of the os was not optimized.  Apple had promised the world it would have MacOSX out in the summer of 1998.  1.0 didnt ship until march of 2000.  They needed to prove to their developers that they were serious and that the whole thing was not going to fall apart like their last attempt at a major change in the OS. 

    It wasnt that the bear danced well…  its amazing that that bear danced at all.

    One of the great things about the way they built the OS is that it can get much better and faster without having to redesign everything.  modifying and improvements are much easier and that has lead to the massive improvements that are represented in 10.2 and 10.3.  10.4 is just another of these incremental improvements and we should see a massive improvement in performance even on the older machines.

    winterbear had this to say on Jan 23, 2005 Posts: 4
  • ...which carries over into better hardware lifetimes and a decent expectation for the mac mini to hold up.  All positive things.

    ResqAndy had this to say on Jan 23, 2005 Posts: 4
  • I know I’ll be buying at least one myself.  I have plenty of “horsepower” with other computers - but the more I look at the iLife applications and the older my daughter gets (now 8) the more I think a “family” computer is something that we really need.  The mini isn’t the most powerful or even the most current software out there - but it will run Reader Rabbit just fine, it’s small enough to put in the Kitchen, will handle Quicken, iTunes and the iCal and Address Book will help us manage soccer practice and the team’s phone numbers etc.  and the pricepoint is such that I can buy it without a whole lot of thought or discussion.

    It may not be the fastest, biggest, most robust system comparatively, but in my years in IT, I got a lot of stuff done for a long time on hardware this good or worse.

    Intel and the computer industry has done a great job of convincing us to judge hardware on processor speed, ram and HD size and not look at the fit for the job.

    The reason why most of us reading this don’t have riding mowers, or snow blowers with electric start is because we look at our yards and driveways, and buy what is right for the size of the job.  Why don’t we do the same computer wise?

    A dual 2.5 ghz w/ 2gb RAM is a great system - but if you are only checking email, doing a little iTunes and web surfing why do you need that?

    For me the mini is my push mower…..

    SQLDba had this to say on Jan 24, 2005 Posts: 3
  • There are many consumers who just aren’t going to be burning a DVD.  Consumers like my Mom.  Or like a friend of mine.  Burning a DVD just isn’t something they have a need or desire to do.

    So I think it would be rather cheeky of Apple to make them pay for something they simply won’t use.  If someone wants an entry level Mac AND wants to burn DVD’s then let them pay for an upgrade.  Just don’t make light users pay for other people’s fun.

    I’m not sure why so many long-time Mac users are so concerned about the Mac mini coming standard with a combo drive and think this is an oversight that will kill sales.  The entry-level models of the eMac, iMac, iBook and PowerBook all have combo drives as standard. Only the PowerMac G5 comes standard with a SuperDrive.

    DF in Boston had this to say on Jan 26, 2005 Posts: 15
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