The Low End Mac Mailbag

The Mac mini Isn't Dead, Macs for the Workplace, a Taller Mac mini, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.07.31

Mac mini and the Workplace

Mike Perry says:

Dan Knight,

Liked your article about a Mac mini replacement. I've been pushing the idea in every forum I can. Let's hope the decline of the Mac mini means something else is on the near horizon. With Apple TV, there's no longer a need for a tiny media Mac.

I've been calling the replacement a Mac Biz in the hope Apple would adopt a name that would make it clear to business it intends a product that fits their (my) needs. And for that, what's left out is as important as what's included. You listed what's in. Here's what's out.

  1. Keyboard, mouse, and display left out. People who work at a computer 8 hours a day have their own ideas about them, so don't force Apple's choices on them. Businesses also have lots of such equipment around and don't want to pay for more. An office isn't a home where a wife's fretting about decor and matching colors.
  2. No WiFi or Bluetooth. 80% of businesses don't use it, going with ethernet cable instead. Privacy, security, and reliability matter more in a business.
  3. No built-in camera or mike. If used to play around, they waste time. For businesses purposes, better quality and more flexibility is needed than what Apple ships.

Cover the cost of what's added with what's left out to keep the cost down.

Apple really can't capture much more market share targeting consumers who don't care if their home computer is different from their work computer. They've got to grab a share of the business market and people who's home computer will always match that at work.

Mike Perry

Mike,

I pretty much agree with you. Apple's mouse and keyboard are not up to snuff compared to equipment from Logitech, Microsoft, etc. There's no sense putting a camera or mike in a modular Mac. WiFi is nice, but if eliminating it can cut $25 from the price, make it optional.

Bluetooth is another story, as many people in business do have Bluetooth phones, PDAs, and headsets. Also, Apple's wireless mouse and keyboard require Bluetooth, so I can't imagine Apple leaving it out.

Apple needs to target the business world, especially now that Macs can do virtualization and run Windows and Linux in parallel with Mac OS X.

Dan

Re: 'Mac Mini Is Dead' Article

Ray Steveson writes:

I would say that the mini is the "new" eMac, in the sense that it seems to be a product Apple has little interest in maintaining. The eMac seemed to be a continuation of the CRT iMac, primarily aimed at schools who were reluctant to rely on the floating LCD panel of the G4 iMac. The mini, however it may have originally been intended, seemed to be often used as part of a media center - which the Apple TV is now marketed towards. The mini could still be considered a viable "laptop alternative" - those who want the size and lack of noise that laptops are associated with.

The mini is not much of an alternative desktop, as you noted. However, I suspect it was intended as more of a desktop replacement, much like the large MacBook Pros can be. Compared to any of the MacBooks, the mini is a cheaper route toward a display of your choosing, and a keyboard and mouse that can be placed anywhere in relation to the monitor and CPU.

The small, expandable Mac that you propose would certainly have fans amongst the enthusiast crowd. For the new or "average" consumer, I don't know that expandability has much impact on making decisions. A lot of those customers just want something to work, and don't want to mess around with seemingly difficult installations. It's these people that Apple is targeting; who else is?

Regardless, I don't think Apple will ever make the computer you envision. First, it would cannibalize the Mac Pro market, especially if the CPU is upgradeable. Second, it targets a market that (in Apple's eye) should be buying the Mac Pro anyway. Third, the Expando-Mini would have a small gross margin; at best, it would equal to the current Mini, and it would likely be even less. While using desktop components would be slightly cheaper, the additional expense of more RAM slots and PCIe slots would seem to offset this.

Having a small gross margin is something Apple generally hasn't done, and it puts the company in exactly the same place as most PC makers. Considering the difficulty facing many PC makers, that's not a position to be envied. Last, and perhaps most significantly, look at the most recent financial results. The number of laptops sold is roughly two-thirds greater than the number of desktops, and that ratio is expected to increase. The Expando-Mini would simply slow down that increase, while decreasing both revenue and profits compared to the sales that (Apple believes) they would make in laptops and Mac Pros. Anyway Apple looks at it, it doesn't make much business sense.

Ray,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Apple has offered an "eMac equivalent" iMac since last July, when it introduced a 17" iMac with Intel GMA 950 graphics. Such a model remains in the iMac line as a more affordable option for schools. I can't imagine too many schools picking a $599 Mac mini (plus keyboard, mouse, and display) over a $999 iMac with a keyboard, mouse, and built-in 17" display.

I agree that the Mac mini really is the perfect Mac for a lot of people. Most people don't need expansion slots, never upgrade RAM after the initial purchase, and would be content to add an external drive if/when they fill the internal hard drive. I know of enough Windows users who didn't have the foresight to make sure their PC could handle more than 128 MB of RAM - and then bought Windows XP and found it horribly lacking.

Expansion slots, RAM sockets, and drive bays are part of planning ahead. When people ask a "computer expert" for advice, they will almost always hear, "buy one with plenty of expansion options." And these people aren't prepared to spend $2,200 for a Mac Pro; they'd rather buy a sub-$500 Windows PC that has these options.

I don't believe that a $500-$800 modular Mac with two banks for RAM, two PCIe slots, and a spare drive bay would cannibalize Mac Pro sales to a significant extent. There are a lot of people who will never spend $1,000 for a PC, let alone $2,200 and up for a Mac Pro. There are a lot of low-end Mac users who would love to upgrade from their G3 and G4 desktops, but we have the foresight to want expansion options - and don't have budgets that can justify the Mac Pro.

Part of the reason 2/3 of all Macs sold are notebooks is that Apple refuses to address this market, which makes up the largest portion of the Windows desktop PC market. If Apple were really serious about making inroads into the Windows user base, they would introduce an Expando-Mini, Mac Midi, or whatever we might call it.

It seems Apple only wants neophytes and power users. The rest of us, those who are somewhat tech savvy, are being ignored, and it's costing Apple market share.

Dan

The iMac Must Be Dead Too

Steve Kellener says:

That last revision of the Mac mini took place in September 2006 when Apple abandoned the Core Solo and put a 1.66 GHz Core Duo in the entry level model.

I guess the iMac must be dead as well seeing as how they last updated it in September 2006 also. You made no mention of that.

Steve

Steve,

That's the consensus. Everyone is expecting a new iMac design in August. Rumor has it that there will no longer be a 17" model and that the new iMacs will have a brushed aluminum look.

It would be nice to see an expandable Mac mini replacement at the same time.

Dan

Long Live the Mac mini!

Dan,

I purchased my mini when the only choices were the eMac, a G4 tower, and the mini. I decided on an open box model that was available at the Tyson's Corner store. While I have added an external hard drive, the only thing that I would add is memory to get above the stock 512 MB. I like the mini, as I am one of the 98% of all users that buy a computer and never upgrade it.

If Apple decides to kill it, I might buy another as a backup. I don't have a need for a G5 sized tower and already have a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. So, for ever how long they exist, long live the mini!

Scott Selby

Scott,

The Mac mini is a great computer for those who never upgrade their hardware, as hardware upgrades are both limited and a bit tricky to install. (As with the iPod, it's far from obvious how to open the case.)

Dan

Going to Buy Another Mac mini

Colin Kraft says:

Hi Dan,

First let me thank you for LEM.

I purchased my G4 mini the first day it came out. I still think it's a great machine - in fact it's my only machine that's really useable (my Color Classic is cute though), and I use it every day.

Like iPods, the minis are disposable machines, meant to be thrown away every 2-3 years. I guess my mini is now a low-end Mac. : )

I sold my ultra-upgradeable G4 tower for $1,000 and bought my mini for $500. Sure, the Power Mac had expandability, but I found that I just didn't need that.

If they drop the mini, I think it will be a mistake because there will not be a cheap Apple option. I'm buying a new, cheap, fabulous mini as soon as Leopard is released.

I do find it odd that they have not updated the mini in so long. However, I hope you are pleasantly surprised when Apple announces an updated mini next month.

-C

Colin,

Thanks for writing. The Mac mini is a great little computer and perfect for a lot of people. Where it misses the mark is among those who like to upgrade their computers and get the most out of them - the very people asked for advice when someone is buying a new Mac or Windows PC.

I'd love to see the Mac mini remain in Apple's line, but even more I would love to see Apple address the needs of the computer hobbyist.

Dan

Happy with My mini

George Galla writes:

I've been a reader of your site for several years and have been wanting a Mac for a long time. Finally last year I bought a Mac mini. I've been a Windows user for many years and finally switched.

In general I'm pretty happy with the mini, so I read you're article with some sadness. I have some responses to the article. Expandability is not important for me. The computer is quite powerful for its size as it is. I did upgrade the memory to 1 gig and found that process difficult. The mini could have been made easier to work on.

The main reason I bought the mini is its design. I like the many features in the design. I like that its quiet and uses very little energy. I like that its small and can be put on the desk with the monitor so it's easy to change cables and play CDs and DVDs. I like that it cuts down on wire clutter. So I will miss it, and if Apple doesn't hold the price point my next PC will be a Windows one.

I agree with many of your suggestions for a successor and can only hope Mr. Steve Jobs is listening. By the way, I enjoy the site and find it useful and informative.

George Galla

George,

I'm glad you enjoy your mini, and I hope I'm wrong in assuming that Apple has no future plans for it. I certainly hope we won't lose you to the Windows side.

Dan

A Taller Mac mini

Tim Larson says:

Dan,

What Apple could do is build a taller mini, about 2x or even 3x as tall as the current version, but otherwise the same footprint. This would have the following benefits:

  • room for a full size hard drive mounted higher above the mobo
  • room for RAM slots on the mobo, since the hard drive isn't in the way
  • room for low-profile PCI slot on a riser board (probably)
  • room (at 3x height) for an internal power supply (possibly)
  • retaining compatibility with "stacking" mini peripherals
  • looking (at 3x height) a lot like Jobs' cherished Cube form factor

I don't think the lack of space for a second hard/optical drive is a significant downfall of the mini. Most consumers - and I'm talking upwards of 97% - simply will never ever use one, so the space is wasted, especially when you consider that those who really need this can easily find external solutions. Put the "burden" on those who actually make use of it.

Tim

Tim,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Apple could conceivably make an expandable Mac with the same footprint as the mini, although that might limit the number of PCI or PCIe cards that would fit, as some are undoubtedly over 6" long.

Personally, I preferred to run my eMac from an external FireWire drive simply because it was such a bear to swap out the internal drive. (Doing it once was often enough.)

If Apple does make a taller mini, I hope they'll give users easy access to the insides, something they perfected with the blue & white G3 eight years ago.

Dan

Tim replies:

Dan Knight wrote:

Apple could conceivably make an expandable Mac with the same footprint as the mini, although that might limit the number of PCI or PCIe cards that would fit, as some are undoubtedly over 6" long.

It would definitely require the low-profile PCI cards, not the typical half-length cards. The PCI specifications allow for this, but I do not know how many cards are made in this form factor.

Keeping in mind that the mini is a consumer-level Mac, it probably only needs one slot. The vast majority of people never upgrade, except maybe RAM. Those that do usually need only one slot.

If Apple does make a taller mini, I hope they'll give users easy access to the insides, something they perfected with the blue & white G3 eight years ago.

I am in complete agreement! An "appliance" was a nice idea in 1984, but I think we are beyond the point where people are scared of computers. People expect to be able to tinker now, and Apple should respect that.

Tim Larson

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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