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Making a Mac mini (and Pro) Pitch in an iMac/MacBook World

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Wednesday, August 8, 2007
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Yes, I understand that Apple’s laptop sales are radically eclipsing desktop sales. And yes, I will completely acknowledge that Apple really would prefer to design computers around a $1,500 average selling price, rather than ones for $500 or $600.

But let’s talk for a moment about the Mac mini. Follow the clues from Apple and it’s apparent that the company doesn’t like this product: there are constant leaks that it’s on the verge of discontinuation, and little hints that the company’s customer base doesn’t want a machine like it. Then there was yesterday’s Mac press event: the Mac mini was upgraded with a 39% performance boost, but Steve Jobs never even mentioned it, and you won’t see anything about it in the QuickTime video of the conference. Put another way, the $599 low-end computer in the Mac family gets less respect from Apple than the $79 low-end iPod shuffle. Odd, right?

Thinking back to the Mac mini’s introduction, it was obvious back in early 2005 that Apple created the machine to satisfy an external demand rather than its own internal goals. People kept asking Apple, explained Jobs, why it didn’t offer a $500 computer, especially for potential switchers. So it came up with the Mac mini, and provided a low-cost entry point for people who were on the fence about becoming Mac users. No keyboard. No mouse. No monitor. Buy it, carry it home in a lunchbox-sized box, connect it to the stuff you have already, and go Mac. Simple. But Apple doesn’t like that. It apparently wants to sell you a new monitor, keyboard, and mouse every time you buy a computer, and its laptop sales are predicated on such bundles.

From my perspective, and no matter what Apple’s sales charts may or may not say, the little Mac mini experiment has worked—perhaps better than Apple even realizes. The low price point doesn’t just sell Mac minis; it brings cost-conscious customers to Apple’s web site and stores, where they may—or may not—make the decision to buy something more expensive. The Mac mini customer may well walk out with an iMac. Or a MacBook.

Yet if a customer buys the Mac mini, something else invariably happens later: he or she goes back and buys more Apple stuff. The old PC monitor gets replaced with a shiny new Cinema Display. An extra backup hard drive is added on. Or the beat up keyboard and mouse get swapped for nicer Mac versions. If Apple wins this customer with a low-priced mchine, gently teaching him or her the value of paying a bit more for Apple’s products, the customer eventually comes back. If Apple doesn’t have the low-priced machine, sale 1 never happens, and neither do sales 2, 3, and 4.

I’ll provide a quick example. After literally raising me on the Mac, my dad became a PC user as a result of Apple’s “bad period.” My mom gets dad’s hand-me-down computers, so she was a PC user too, and had problem after problem getting simple things to work on her PC. I bought mom a Mac mini—the ideal gift Mac—and suddenly, her computer problems basically stopped. She could video conference (and got an iSight). It all “just worked.” So dad got jealous and bought a Power Mac. Not an iMac, but an expensive, top-of-line machine. You get the idea. I can say with certainty that none of this would have happened if there wasn’t a Mac mini in Apple’s lineup.

This isn’t the only happy Mac mini story I could tell you. Mine has served as a very reliable, if not particularly fast emergency Mac when our Apple laptops have developed (regrettably too many) problems, as laptops unfortunately tend to do. The mini has gone from room to room of my house, into two offices, a kitchen, and temporarily a living room during the time I’ve had it, connecting to an old PC monitor, two different Cinema Displays, and even an HDTV or two. I’ve been using it for the last two weeks, and as my mom found, it just works.

Apple may not like the Mac mini. It may not understand why it needs to continue producing such a machine, or publicizing its upgrades, or even telling people that it offers a computer for only $599—a slightly sore point for me, given how smart the $499 initial price was. But to me, and to many others, focusing too much attention on $1199 machines is not a winning strategy in the PC business. Like it or not, average people want options, and even if they eventually gravitate towards the iMac, they want to know that the options start at a price that won’t hurt that much.

With all of that said, I have to concede that I spend more time dreaming about mid-range and high-end Apple desktop machines than I do thinking about Mac minis. I am, and possibly always will be, a two-computer person—I want a powerful desktop machine and a highly portable notebook computer, and I need to have both in case one has a problem. My ideal solution, and what others tell me they want as well, would be something smaller than the Mac Pro; if Apple was selling a powerful (but more reasonably priced) Intel version of the G4 Cube right now, I’d buy it in a heartbeat and hook it up to my Cinema Display. Since that’s not happening, I’m waiting on a redesigned Mac Pro, though I’m getting the sense that Apple isn’t as concerned about allocating its industrial designers (or other energies) to the high- or low-end markets these days. The new iMacs are nice, but they’re not what I need, and while the Mac mini is a great backup machine, I need more horsepower. And I’m willing to pay for it.

What about you, readers? Are you Mac mini, iMac, Mac Pro, Apple notebook, or non-Apple computer users? What would it take to get you to buy a new Mac?

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Comments

1

I’ve been a PowerBook G4 user since 2004 and won’t upgrade this computer until they redesign of the Mac Book Pro.. I’m tired of looking at this old design.

Posted by Justin Braithwaite on August 8, 2007 at 12:37 PM (PDT)

2

I started with the TiBook in 2003 and have since gone to the 12” PowerBook + 20” Cinema Display combo. I bought a Mac mini last year with the Intel Core Duo for the sole purpose of hooking it up to my HDTV and pairing it with an Elgato Hybrid. So in one small box I can do everything an Apple TV can plus watch DVDs, surf the Internet, and watch/record TV. And it has come in handy as a backup for my PowerBook if its in the shop. Albeit, the Mac mini doesn’t have a worthwhile video card, it still delivers on everything I need it to do.

Posted by philipz on August 8, 2007 at 1:25 PM (PDT)

3

I am also a 12” PB user, and love it.  As you said Jeremy, the first sale makes many more.  I (16 years old) got my 12” PBG4 when I turned 13 — following that, we bought a Mac Mini G4, next, a Power Mac G5, and then for my sister, an iBook G4.  I am hoping for a 12” MacBook Pro, but I am not holding my breath.  If one doesn’t come out within the next year or two, I’ll be purchasing a Mac Pro.

I am considering getting a 20” Cinema Display for use with my PowerBook, as my old 19” screen died recently.  Hopefully Apple updates the Cinema Display soon, and then I can pick up an “old” 20” on the cheap!

Matte screens FTW!

Posted by spyderracer393 on August 8, 2007 at 2:00 PM (PDT)

4

Well analyzed, Jeremy!

I love the mini (in contrast to my MBP, which constantly dies from overheating)

Your argument about choice is, in my belief, also the reason why Apple doesn’t like the mini. Apple has never been about choice. The approach is ‘look, we give you x (x being somewhere between 2 and 5) great options, so you pick one of those and be done with it. You dont want anything else’.

Posted by stefan on August 8, 2007 at 2:11 PM (PDT)

5

I just bought a Macbook Pro 15” ($2499 model) for work and I am completely in love with the keyboard and screen.  They are both very very nice and have come in handy for work.  I think Jeremy’s point is valid as I have always been planning to buy a Mac Mini since they came out, but found myself buying the Macbook Pro when it finally came time to switch.  The ‘idea’ of the Mini is strong enough to lure new users into the Apple fold. I am also looking for a Cinema Display update, and maybe then I will buy the Mini - I hope Apple starts treating it a little better by then.

Posted by Alfredo on August 8, 2007 at 3:19 PM (PDT)

6

I just had to reply to Jeremy’s post, because what he’s described is exactly what’s happened with me. I’ve always drooled for a Mac, but the Mini was the only thing I could purchase. I ended up getting a wireless Apple keyboard for the looks, purchase #2. Since then I bought a second hand PowerBook 12”, which technically doesn’t amount to direct Apple revenue, but leaves me desiring for an Intel processor on a portable, probably leading to a laptop purchase in the future. I’d say the Mini was instrumental in winning me over, I love this little guy, and really is depressing to see that it doesn’t get enough respect.

Posted by Joo on August 8, 2007 at 4:56 PM (PDT)

7

You’re so to the point.
I got my first mac about a year ago - I had a desktop PC and I wanted something on the go.
I got myself a nice 13” MacBook and I love it.

Now its about time to replace the desktop machine but I feel like the iMac is great but too limiting to me - I want to be able to expend the machine but I can buy a MacPro its to high for my budget…

Really wish they bring out the Cube once again…

Posted by LinkTree on August 8, 2007 at 9:44 PM (PDT)

8

You are dead-on. After first drinking the Apple kool-aid with my iPod Photo, I got really interested in trying out a Mac. The announce of the original G4 Mini in Jan 05 was perfect timing - I ordered one first day. Used it for a few months, then decided I needed something more powerful, so a G5 iMac entered the house. Since then I’ve upgraded to an Intel iMac, and also have Mac Book Pro.

That first little Mini was donated last year to a local theater to run sound for their shows with QLab. But I miss it, so one of the new Core 2 Duo Minis may be arriving shortly. You can never have too many computers, I always say. smile

Posted by Fangorn in Texas on August 9, 2007 at 3:36 PM (PDT)

9

I am not a Mac user….yet. But I plan on being soon. Between the trojan horse of the iPod and the much more modern and nicer operating system, I just can’t stay with a windows PC any longer. BUT here is the quandary:

Like Linktree said, I want something more expandable then a Mini or an iMac, BUT the MacPro is way out of my price range. I’ve heard this mentioned by others too, so it really seems like Apple is missing the in-between market here. I want a sexy stylish machine, that CAN be upgraded with different chips or video cards as needs warrant. Apple on the other hand, prefers to sell things to me like a car where I only buy one every 7 years and live with my engine choices and features until I get a new one. I don’t like that very much. If Apple is to make further inroads into the PC market, they are going to have to budge on this issue a bit. PC people are too used to upgrading their machines when they need. Locking them down into one setup of hardware for the life of the computer just isn’t going to sit well with them. I know it doesn’t with me. So I have put off this switch for literally years over this issue. Perhaps I will just go with a Mac Book. At least with a laptop I expect the hardware to be less upgradeable.

Posted by Coasterbuf on August 11, 2007 at 7:50 PM (PDT)

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