Gotta keep those profits rolling in.
I'm not against profits, but the hype machine that is Apple is once again in full force. But let's take a look at what's offered.
We have the "iPod Hi-Fi." It's a boom box, and a misuse of the term "high fidelity." But then, most of the target audience wouldn't know high fidelity if they heard it, probably because their hearing is shot from listening to earbuds connected to iPods turned up too loud.
Let's consider the possible marketing slogans:
"The Boom Box for the Rest of Us..."
Okay, not at 350 buckazoids.
"Mac mini: Make the switch"
To Intel? At a higher price?
"The $99 Leather iPod Case: Milking Customers Daily"
Okay, that will never fly.
But let’s ignore the iPod Hi-Fi for a moment. I can appreciate the idea of music on the go, but the new Mac minis are more interesting, if only because they're so underwhelming.
Sure, Apple now offers a dual-core mini, which is pretty cool, but both the new minis are more expensive than the old minis. It makes you wonder about the strategy of moving to Intel because the Power PC was getting too expensive.
It's worse, too, in that the minis are a leap backwards. I don't mean the move to Intel CPUs, which I generally believe is a good idea. It's this little bit of text from the specs from the new minis:
"Intel GMA950 graphics processor with 64MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory"
This is straight from the Apple web site.
Now, the ATI Radeon 9200 that Apple used in the older minis didn't offer burn-down-the-house 3D performance. But the mini did have its own dedicated 32MB of frame buffer.
Now, you're sharing the frame buffer with main memory. To be fair, the GMA950 is fairly clever about memory usage, and can be set up to allocate only 8MB, then automatically use what it needs if a 3D app kicks in. But it's still weaker than the Radeon 9200 in overall graphics horsepower.
This actually matters. The OSX interface uses 3D acceleration, so graphics performance matters, and the GMA950's ability to smartly manage memory is diminished, since 3D will be needed even for ordinary tasks.
Of course, Apple did increase the main memory, so that the shared graphics memory wouldn't impact main system memory, right?
Wrong. The mini still ships with 512MB of RAM. It's faster RAM, to be sure (DDR2/667), and the mini has two DIMM sockets.
So after dropping a dedicated frame buffer but not increasing main memory, the price has ... gone up. The entry level mini is now $599, with the dual-core version weighing in at $799. The new minis have a nifty software bundle, and offer more output ports.
The combination of Front Row, iLife, and Bonjour is an interesting one for people wanting to easily integrate digital media into their home. The problem is that the Mac is an island, even more than Windows systems, when it comes to digital media.
Add the fact that the higher price on the mini doesn't even bring a TV tuner into the game, and you have a fairly anemic system out of the box. Toss in a remote control that's fairly useless for TV viewing, and you don't really have a full-fledged living room PC.
You can, of course, expand it with USB or FireWire hard drives, USB TV tuners and other accessories. But then you're elegant little Mac mini has developed its own entourage of accessories and cabling, adding to the clutter that a small box like the mini is trying to eliminate.
Most buyers of Windows Media Center PCs have tended to use them more for digital photo and music management than for TV viewing and recording, so at first blush, the mini may be ideal.
But the slow, low capacity hard drive means that if you are ripping your music in Apple Lossless, you'll fill up those hard drives pretty quickly, if you have a modestly large CD collection.
This is, after all about high fidelity, right? Right? You'll need to add those external hard drives fairly quickly.
In the end, it's all about Apple rolling out incremental products to keep public interest and sales moving. This isn't a bad business strategy, but as the tide of different iPod hardware releases indicate, Apple users will have to continue to pay to keep up.
It's one thing to keep new products coming out, but the releases need to be spread out enough so that previous buyers don't feel completely cheated.
It's interesting how Apple, a company with $14 billion in annual revenues, over 13,000 employees, and a CEO who now sits on the board of Disney is somehow perceived as consisting of a bunch of rebels. Gotta love that cult marketing.
The mini is a cool idea for an office workstation or light-duty home PC. But if Apple is serious about the living room, they need to build something that resembles a DVD player more than a personal pizza package. Build in enough outputs and inputs, including television, and then you'd have a cool little box. I'd buy one.
Copyright © 2006 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.