Friday, January 28, 2005

Mac mini size and specs a boon for retailers

Much has been made about the tiny size of the Mac mini, with some people (including myself to an extent) wondering why Apple didn't make it slightly bigger to accomodate a 3.5" hard drive and more memory, and why they didn't include the keyboard and mouse.

1) The tiny size of the Mac mini makes it a desktop that is actually physically lighter and smaller than most laptops. The Mac mini's box is thus cheaper for Apple to ship, and the mini takes up a lot less retail shelf space. Furthermore, it becomes almost an impulse buy item. Anyone can walk out with a new Mac mini and just continue shopping. There is no need to bring the car around just to move it like with other desktops.

2) The tiny size and its good looks have struck a chord with customers, in a time when more or more market share is moving from desktops to laptops. In some ways, the mini shares some of the best features of both types of computers. The mini is small and inconspicuous if need be, yet has the low cost of a desktop.

3) The lack of an included mouse and keyboard is intentional, not only to lessen costs, but also to make the mini more flexible for the consumer. Despite my support of the one-button mouse concept, many consumers do prefer mice with two (or more) buttons. A mouse is a personal thing, and Apple has let the consumer choose. The same is true for keyboards, but more importantly, an included keyboard would make the mini's packaging too large. Also, for those who don't already have a keyboard, Apple has lowered their wired keyboard price to $29, and that includes a built-in USB hub. They have also dropped pricing on their mice and wireless keyboard too. This also helps retailers, who can sell more keyboards, mice, and other accessories, either bundled with with the Mac mini or otherwise.

4) The single memory slot can be an annoyance, although fortunately 3rd party memory is inexpensive, and it seems that those handy with a putty knife can install their own memory, without voiding the warranty.

Apple has responded to criticisms of their ridiculously high 1 GB upgrade price (well over US$400) by lowering it to US$325. In my opinion they did not go far enough, and should have lowered it to US$299. I say $299 despite the fact that 3rd party 1 GB DIMMs can be had for close to US$200, because I suspect one of the reasons for keeping memory prices artificially high is not just to pad the bottom line, but also to help 3rd party vendors. A $299 price for 1 GB memory at the Apple Store allows Mac oriented stores to sell the mini with 1 GB 3rd party RAM for less than what Apple charges, but a $299 price is still low enough to make 1 GB an impulse upgrade on the mini at the Apple online and Apple retail stores. Still, $325 is a lot better than it was a week ago, and I applaud Apple for coming as far as they have so quickly on this issue.

A second slot would have been better for consumers, and would have only impacted the size and design marginally, but Apple this time chose to use memory expandability as a product line differentiator, as an olive branch to retailers, and to save costs.

5) The mini's slot-load laptop optical drive is potentially more expensive, but it definitely saves space and makes the mini a lot smaller than most of even the small form factor PC solutions. 8X laptop DVD-R burners are also becoming plentiful these days, and despite the fact that Apple only lists 4X burners on the Mac mini page at the Apple Store (after a brief stint listing 8X burners), Apple has in fact shipped many minis with the 8X Matshita UJ-835F. I suspect, however, that once the iMac and PowerBook officially get 8X drives, the mini will too.

6) The 2.5" laptop hard drive is also more expensive, and slower, but again Apple chose size over raw speed, for the reasons above. The laptop hard drives also run cooler than the desktop hard drives, and for a small form factor machine, this can be a significant issue. For what it's worth, Apple is shipping Mini's with 4200 rpm drives which have a large 8 MB cache, and is even shipping some with 5400 rpm drives (with 2 MB cache).

All in all, I think Apple made the right decisions. Everyone loves the mini, including Apple, Apple's customers, and the retailers. In fact, Best Buy, USA's largest electronics retailer, hasn't sold Macs in years but plans to sell the mini.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Mac mini is best selling Mac launch of all time

A poster over at Slashdot claims that he spoke with the Mac mini team leader, who said that the Mac mini has had the best ever launch for a Macintosh computer.

Although I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this post, it does make sense. The Mac mini has received the most interest I have ever observed for a Mac product, not just from Mac fans, but from everyone else too. Furthermore, The Mac mini is not only outselling all other computers currently sold by Apple, it is even outselling the iPod at the Apple Store. And while Apple had stock on hand immediately after the Macworld Mac mini launch and was able to deliver units out to customers within days, demand has far outstripped supply and there is now a 3 week backlog. Target has removed the mac mini from its website, stating that they're sold out and have no idea when they'll be able to get stock back in. And the current number one selling desktop computer at Amazon is... you guessed it... also the Mac mini.

The Mac mini is an unmitigated hit. The DigiTimes claims that Apple has contracted Foxconn to produce over 100000 Mac minis per month, but I suspect that will be well over that number.

By the way, that same Slashdot post includes an interesting story from the Mac mini team leader about how the size of the mini was chosen. Apparently the engineers were asked how small they could make the mini. When they came up with their smallest possible size, they were told to make it one size smaller. :)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ars Technica releases PC -> Mac switcher guide

Ars Technica has released A mini-guide to Mac OS X for new Mini owners. It's a guide to help PC users who have recently become Mac mini owners to become a little more acquainted with their new machines. However, since it a general guide, there is good information in there for anyone using a Mac OS X machine. Recommended.

PowerBook updates coming soon

Internet sites are reporting that the PowerBooks have all been end-of-life'd. This seems to be true, as there are now 3-5 and 7-10 day delays for shipping of the PowerBooks from the Apple Store, while the iBook, iMac, eMac, and PowerBook all have same day shipping. (This is good to see, since it means the 20" iMac G5 and the dual Power Mac G5 2.5 GHz are no longer in short supply.)

The end-of-life status of the PowerBook means that new PowerBooks will likely appear in early February. It is unclear what the specifications of the next PowerBooks will be, but it is widely expected that they will get G4 MC7447B speedbumps, to 1.5 GHz for the 12" and 1.67 GHz for the 15" and 17".

However, The Inquirer reports gaining access to a document that claims the HyperTransport Consortium has a design win with the PowerBook. If true, this would suggest the existence of a PowerBook G5, although it could just be a prototype which may appear later (or not at all).

It is also curious to see "apple_g5_powerbook" mentioned in the source code of the Apple PowerBook page. However, for all we know, it could just be a jokester web designer messing with us. :) The other reference to "sosumi" suggests that just might be the case. ;)

[Update: 2005/01/27]

Apple has now changed the source to "apple_g4_powerbook".