Mac Musings

Beyond the Mac mini: The Accessories Market

Daniel Knight - 2005.01.13

I'm glad I was wrong in my jaded opinion that Apple would never release a Mac priced for the consumer market. The Mac mini looks like a nearly perfect low-cost computer, and the size makes it extremely portable.

The Market

There are a lot of markets for the Mac mini: Windows users tired of malware can buy a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch and use their current PC and peripherals when they have to, the Mac mini when they want to.

Mac mavens can buy a mini, stick it in their briefcase, and sneak it into the office. With a low-cost KVM switch, they can use a Mac at work. Just be sure to get IT permission before connecting to the company network.

Students will be able to use the Mac mini in their dorm rooms or apartments, tote them home for breaks, and maybe even use them in the school library or computer lab.

Other Mac users will be able to leave a keyboard, mouse, and monitor at home, in the office, or elsewhere and just move the computer from one location to the other. No more worries about synchronizing files.

And then there are the Mac users with older hardware - PCI Power Macs, slower G4s, "ancient" tray-loading iMacs. They can move up to 1.25 GHz, OS X 10.3, iLife '05, Quicken 2005, and more for just US$499 plus whatever new peripherals they may need to work with the new hardware.

And then there are the Windows users who are just sick to death of the way Windows attracts malware and eventually gets so bogged down that their computers become unusable. $499 is a small price to pay to end that aggravation.

I suspect some Mac-using businesses may even adopt the Mac mini and encourage employees to take them home at night and over the weekend.

The Accessories

I anticipate a huge add-on market for the Mac mini. Apple already offers a Belkin KVM for $29.95 and JBL speakers for $49.95, and - of course - their own USB keyboard and mouse kit for just US$58. Apple even sells multi-button mice from Microsoft, Logitech, and Kensington; printers; traditional CRT monitors from US$159; and iPods.

The one thing I didn't see listed is an extra power supply so you can leave one at each place you use the Mac mini. I'm sure that will come.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Matias team up with someone to offer bundles including their Tactile Pro and OS X keyboards and a white mouse with at least two buttons and a scroll wheel. Nor would I be surprised to see Logitech, Microsoft, Macally, Kensington, and others offer white keyboard/mouse bundles especially targeted at Mac mini buyers.

Expect LaCie, WiebeTech, and a host of others to come up with "zero footprint" external hard drives, SuperDrives, and the like that match the 6.5" footprint and brushed aluminum finish of the Mac mini. With laptop drives topping out at 100 GB and Apple selling nothing bigger than 80 GB, there should be a good market for add-on drives that are faster or more capacious.

We might even see external drives that act as hubs, offering two or three FireWire or USB 2.0 ports, since the Mac mini is rather challenged in the number of ports it offers. And I'm sure we'll also see a zero footprint FireWire/USB 2.0 hub in very short order.

We'll see speakers from several vendors, and I think it would be very cool if someone offered a 6.5" deep sound system that puts speakers on each side of the Mac mini. Just drop in the computer, connect a cable, and listen in stereo.

As the Mac mini takes off, expect Elgato to release or work with another hardware vendor to release an external TV tuner that matches the Mac mini, allowing it to become a digital video recorder. Even better if it had room for a hard drive so you wouldn't have to fill the mini's 40 GB or 80 GB with the programs you're recording.

And what if Apple were to jump on the bandwagon and offer a zero footprint slot-loading iPod dock or AirPort Extreme Base Station? The compact form factor just begs for it.

And someone is bound to come up with a rack mount that can hold one, two, or possibly even three Mac minis in an equipment rack. Coupled with a big hard drive, the Mac mini could make a fantastic server.

Mac mini with 7" displayAt least one or two vendors is bound to design monitors that will complement the Mac mini. I'd just love to see a 6.5" wide display - CRT or LCD - that could be clipped to the mini and turn it into a modern Color Classic. A 6-7" (diagonal) display should fit nicely, and as long as it could display at least 800 x 600, it would have a market.

Another idea would be to adapt a 12" LCD to fit directly over the Mac mini, with a pair of stereo speakers in the feet on either side of the computer. It's just waiting to happen.

The biggie, though, is probably going to be a widescreen LCD in the 15" to 17" range that not only looks great but has a price that complements the Mac mini. (Here's an idea for Apple: Use the 17" screen from the iMac G5 along with the same kind of base the iMac uses, and design it so the Mac mini sits right on the foot of the base.)

This is going to be the biggest thing for Mac peripheral makers since the iMac created a market for better USB mice and keyboards, external CD burners, and USB printers. The Mac mini is going to be the iPod of personal computing.