Thursday, January 13, 2005

Apple releases $499 Mac mini

As several rumour sites had predicted, a new headless Mac was announced at Steve Jobs' keynote at Macworld San Francisco. Called the Mac mini and priced at a shockingly low $499 for the base model, it is Apple's attempt to compete in the low end PC market, and it will hopefully capitalize on the momentum generated by the iPod and the iMac G5 (which led Apple's march to 1046000 Macs sold last quarter) to help Macs gain worldwide market share.

Based on the rumours and my own ideas about the machine, I had predicted the specifications for the machine:

1.25 GHz G4 7447A, CPU soldered to motherboard - correct
256 MB DDR333 RAM, expandable to 2 GB - correct, but only when 2 GB DIMMs become available, since there is only 1 DIMM slot.
167 MHz bus - correct
Radeon 9200 32 MB (no full CoreImage support) - correct
DVI and VGA support, GPU soldered to motherboard - correct
40 GB hard drive - correct, although it is a laptop drive
DVD/CD-RW combo drive (slot-load) - correct
Firewire 400 and USB 2 - correct
100 Mbps Ethernet - correct
V.92 modem - correct
Airport Extreme ready - correct
Bluetooth ready - correct
US$599 - incorrect, but that's good. :)

Out of the entire list, I got most right, but to my surprise (and it's a very good surprise) Apple beat my predicted price by a full $100. Very impressive. This is a Apple's first sub-$500 computer, perfectly timed to take advantage of the iPod halo, and adequate as a desktop for Apple's entry into enterprise.

One of the curious features of the unit were the use of the laptop drive, since it is higher cost. However, such a drive is often quieter and usually cooler as well, and it's clear that Apple wanted as small and cool a computer as possible. The other curious feature is the single DIMM slot, which effectively makes 1 GB in the Mac mini a very expensive proposition, since 1 GB DIMMs are very expensive and the Mac mini is not user upgradeable.

The inclusion of DVI is key, as most higher end LCDs have DVI these days, including Apple's own DVI-only Cinema Displays. Although VGA is often sufficient at lower resolutions, DVI is usually better, and at higher resolutions, DVI is a necessity.

The Mac mini's tiny size is its most striking asset, but it is also a potential liability for enterprise. It is small enough to be easily stolen. While there is a Kensington lock slot, thieves will simply rip the lock right out, even if it damages the Mac mini's casing. Most such locks with alarms will not sound unless the cable is actually cut, but there is no need to cut the cable if one can keep the lock intact.

A keyboard and mouse are not included, but Apple is heavily promoting this as a switcher machine, and many switchers already have a keyboard and mouse. If not, Apple has also recently decreased pricing on the Apple branded keyboard and mouse.

Although the 1.25 GHz G4 is not terribly speedy, a 1.42 GHz option is available. This higher end machine also includes a 80 GB hard drive. There is also a SuperDrive option.

Overall, this seems like a fine product, and with its release along with the iMac G5, it would not be surprising to see Apple average well over 1 million Macs sold per quarter in the coming year.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Headless Mac is key to enterprise sales

Ever since the rumours of the low priced headless Mac broke, the net has been rife with theories about how this unit might revolutionize the digital living room as a personal video recorder, a digital media mini-server, or something similar.

However, it seems likely that such a product would simply be a low end headless Mac, as initially rumoured. While the headless Mac would be the next step in Apple's offerings in the consumer space and would help capture some of those potential PC switchers uninterested in the all-in-one CRT eMac, we must not forget Apple's continuing push into enterprise. Currently, Apple has no headless machine appropriate for institutions. The Power Mac line, including the $1499 single CPU 1.8 GHz Power Mac, is too expensive. There is the iMac, but as an all-in-one like the eMac, it too is inappropriate for many institutions.

With other key factors for the enterprise push (such as Mac OS X 10.3 Panther) now in place, it is only logical for Apple to release a headless enterprise desktop as soon as possible. I've suggested that a headless Mac could be priced at $599 retail. However, for institutional purchases, it is plausible to expect it to be priced well under $499, especially for a model without an optical drive. The hard drive could even be removed for those institutions who plan to net boot the machines.

It is true the low priced headless Mac fills a hole in Apple's consumer desktop lines, but even more significant is the fact that it represents a viable low priced headless desktop for Apple's long overdue push into enterprise.