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 tooâ€”256MB of RAM is way too little for OS Xâ€”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 industryâ€”i.e., exactly the market the Mac Mini is aimed atâ€”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.