Macintosh: It’s a User Thing

It’s been my experience that about half the techies and journalists commenting on the new Mac Mini “get it”, and about half don’t. This contrasts favorably with the track record for the iPod Mini, where almost nobody, including me, “got it” up front. A typical example of the commentators who don’t get it is Michael Kanellos at c|net. First read his latest column and spot the elementary math error. Someone needs a refresher course in high school geometry.

But leave that aside for a minute. The real problem with this, and dozens of similar posts and articles I’ve seen around the Net, is that they aren’t comparing oranges to oranges. Instead they’re comparing tangerines to grapefruits. A Mac Mini is not equivalent to a $499 Gateway PC or white box. It is better than these boxes. Size and design matter. A smaller, quieter, more attractive, less power-hungry computer is a better computer; all other specs being equal. The boxes people like Kanellos keep comparing with the Mac Mini are ugly, hulking, noisy monsters that nobody would want to put in their living room where company might see it. When PCs were limited to university labs and cubicle farms, it was OK to for them to be large, ugly, and noisy. That’s no longer acceptable when they are going in living rooms, dorm rooms, kitchens, and even offices if those offices are already overcrowded with large, noisy PCs.

The second mistake Kanellos and others make is that, even forgetting the quality of life factors like size and noise, the so-called $499 PC they keep referring to doesn’t exist. Oh sure, I know I could go out and put together a machine from parts for about that much money; and most readers of this web site know where and how to buy cheap, bottom-of-the-line PCs. But this is not true for most people. It is decidedly not true for people like my parents, who just last month spent almost twice as much as a Mac Mini would have cost them for an ugly, hulking, noisy new PC with roughly the same specs as a Mac Mini, except maybe for a slightly faster processor. No, they didn’t get a keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, or other extras with their new PC. And no, they didn’t ask me to shop for them either; or they probably would have saved a few hundred dollars. The buying experience for most non-geek users is exactly the same as it was for my parents. They start looking for something cheap; the extras get piled on (virus protection that isn’t as good as the free stuff they could download from the net: anti-spyware software that is the free stuff they could download from the net, extended warranty, onsite installation, padded shipping charges; and suddenly the vendor has its profit margin back. Apple piles on the extras too—256MB of RAM is way too little for OS X—but a lot of the articles I’ve seen included the extras in the cost of the Apple system, but not in the cost of the PC. The real cost of a bare bones Mac is about $700-$800, about the same as the real cost of a bare bones PC. Of course, you can pay more. The white box vendor actually charged them by the hour for the onsite installation so I think their final cost went into four figures.

The bottom line is that for most people who aren’t in the tech industry—i.e., exactly the market the Mac Mini is aimed at—the Mac Mini is a better computer for the same price. For technical users, it makes a nice home headless server, test system, or just an opportunity to try out Mac OS X. But we’re not the target market. We’re gravy. The real target market is my parents and others like them. I’m planning to buy a mac Mini for my wife and maybe for my parents too. I may buy one to use as a home media server, and one for my next web server to replace the seven-year old Dell box serving this site today. How many other people do you know you’ve heard say the same thing? Think about it. Have you ever before in your life heard, people talking about going to the store and buying multiple computers for themselves? People have gotten excited about computers in the past, and pre-ordered PowerBooks, Vaio laptops, iMacs, dual-processor systems; but it’s always been one at a time and mostly with the intent of replacing an existing single system. Suddenly people are going to go to the store and walk out with three or four at a time. It matters that a Mac Mini is small enough that carrying four computers down 5th Avenue in a couple of shopping bags is possible for people this side of Mark “The Hammer” Coleman.

The Mac Mini is a game changing system. This thing is so small and cheap, it’s opening up new possibilities. Put a Mac wherever in the home it would be handy to have a computer. The Mac Mini is a wonderful example of Apple thinking different that’s going to be very profitable for them, and grow their market share significantly. It’s the best thing they’ve done in computers since the iMac. Hell, I never did like the iMac that much. Possibly it’s the best thing Apple’s done in computers since the original 128K Mac. Despite Apple’s perennial lagging in the Java and office software spaces, I’m more bullish on Apple than I have been in a long time. It’s a great time to be using Macs or selling Mac software.

7 Responses to “Macintosh: It’s a User Thing”

  1. elharo Says:

    Here’s another person who should know better, but still manages to compare the small, attractive Mac Mini to a noisy eMachines behemoth and comes to the conclusion that PCs are cheaper.

  2. Brian Says:

    Getting carried away with the idea of multiple machines…

    There are probably people in higher income brackets who will buy multiple mini’s, but six to eight hundred dollars is still a lot of money, especially for someone who doesn’t care about computers all that much. Plus, a lot of people can scrape up a keyboard and monitor, but not multiple keyboards and monitors, plus the complexity of putting together a home network, so the price goes up after the first one.

    I think the interesting part is that mini’s are just barely cheap enough for Mac fans to consider buying them as gifts, so there are going to be a lot of people who will be getting them for nothing, courtesy of Apple’s fan base.

    on Monday, January 17th, 2005 at 2:29 PM

  3. vbonfanti Says:

    $499 PCs really are available

    Here’s a $499 PC from Dell, complete with 17″ monitor, keyboard, and mouse:

    It’s as good, or better than the Mini-Mac. Since I have a computer desk that’s designed to house the CPU (and has a keyboard/mouse drawer), I don’t really care what it looks like. It’s going to be inside the desk, not sitting on top of it. To be fair, I’d probably upgrade to 512MB RAM and 80GB drive, which bumps the price to $553, but…Dell is offering a 10% discount, which drops the price back down below $500. Shipping and tax brings the total to $640. Sorry, but for my money that’s a much better deal than the Mini-Mac. Apple is still trying to charge a premium for its products.

  4. Augusto Sellhorn Says:

    “Apple is still trying to charge a premium for its products.”

    That’s because it’s products are of higher quality.

    Just look at the OS. Forget about usability right now … what machine is more likely to be infested with spyware and other malaware in a few months, the Apple machine or the XP Home edition one? BTW, the Dell machine has no decent graphic card, but what makes it a good deal is the fact that it includes a monitor. Posted by on Tuesday, January 18th, 2005 at 3:30 AM

  5. grant Says:

    Why don’t they get the mini?

    A price/spec comparison with a PC is the first sign that someone doesn’t get why the Mac Mini’s potential is so great. Within a week of its launch, I’ve been completely caught off guard by the number of relatives and friends (read: non-Mac users) who’ve said they’re looking at not only buying a Mac Mini for themselves, but for a parent or grandparent. Not a single one of these people will buy the Mini because of its power or lack thereof when compared to a comparably priced Windows machine. This products #1 selling point is that it is a $500 Windows-security-bug-free email and web browsing computer that “just works”. This market is a big deal for Apple as it is comprised almost entirely of non-Mac users (read: growth). Add to this, the more obvious market of Mac-less iPod users who spent $300-$500 for an iPod within the last few years… why not buy a Mac to go with that iPod for only $500 (read: more growth)? Now throw in all the existing Mac users who want a second Mac to use with their iBooks and Powerbooks or for the kids, and you have the makings of a real home-run for Apple. Yes there are some obvious adopters of the Mac Mini… iPod users, Mac enthusiasts, case-modders and tinkerers; But I believe the biggest percentage of Mac Minis will end up being used by people who’ve never owned a Mac before… and don’t particularly care that they are now, aside from the fact that its so cute. (also posted on my blog)

  6. Carole Mah Says:

    Support costs

    To the person who above who said, “Apple is still trying to charge a premium for their products”. Please also keep in mind that one of the biggest ‘hidden’ costs of PC ownership is support. All the low-tech “mom & dad” users I know who have Macs hardly ever pester me or Apple for support. They can toodle along fine for years without needing any help. All the low-tech “mom & dad” users I know who have PCs are *constantly* calling me up for support, or having to call Dell or Gateway and pay buckets for help when one of their tech-savvy relatives is not around. All you ever get are spyware headaches, broken cheap-ass peripherals, virus nightmares, software configuration tangles, and difficulty installing new packages. PCs are just plain more expensive to support, especially for these less-able users. These people can’t even change their desktop backgrounds or turn the sound back on in the taskbar without help. The Mac users don’t have that problem, because OS X actually makes sense, even to the novice user.

  7. bananasplit Says:

    The iPhone is definitely the best cell phone I’ve over owned, really happy I got it!