Love it or hate it, predictions of demise notwithstanding, Apple’s Mac mini remains popular and a steady seller. Why? Is the Mac mini a real Mac, a value Mac, a fake Mac, or Apple’s way of paying lip service to the low price fanatics?
Personally, having owned a few Mac mini’s, and not having much more than an underpowered experience or two, I tend to think it’s all of the above.
I’ve been pricing out new Macs over the past few days. I lust after a MacPro with eight cores of Intel Xeon goodness. Mortgage rates are low so I could probably afford it if we get a loan on the house.
Besides, Apple’s only display options these days are the new LED Cinema Display, and the aging aluminum 30-inch Cinema Display.
In between the MacPro and the Mac mini is Apple’s staid old line of notebooks and desktops, now with new pricing, but mostly pricing jiggled around amongst a few feature changes.
In comparison to the hot selling aluminum notebooks, the white polycarbonate MacBook looks like a bargain. The 24-inch iMac can be had for less money than the previous model. All the Mac models this year are a little faster, come with more RAM, and with Apple’s infamous limited options.
That’s the Apple way, right? So how is it that Apple, the purveyor of fine quality goods sinces, uh, oh, 2003, can manage to make a Mac for a mere $599? And is it really full-fledged Mac?
The answer, of course, lies between the ears of the beholder. The Mac mini is loved and hated, adored and ridiculed—to some, the least expensive Mac is also the most expensive cheap computer.
For the same $599 a PC user can find brand name desktops with more power, more RAM, bigger hard drives, more ports, and a screen, mouse, and keyboard. Just wait for Sunday’s newspaper for the latest at Best Buy and other purveyors of gadgets, washers, dryers, and TVs.
Why pay $599 for a Mac? Especially one without a screen, mouse, or keyboard? Honestly, Apple is paying lip service to the low end of the PC market in a way that only Apple can.
A Mac is more than hardware. A Mac is the most personal of personal computers, an experience sufficient that Mac users keep their Macs longer than PCs users, on average, are more satisfied than PC users, and have stronger brand loyalty.
It’s the same OS X Leopard and iLife ‘09 in a Mac mini as in the MacBook, iMac, or MacPro line, so the actual user experience will be similar. In more than essence, a Mac mini is a Mac. It just costs $599.
Why? Sorry, folks. It’s Apple’s fault. As Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have stated, it’s not in Apple’s DNA to build junk, and the lower the price, the more the junk quality sets in.
The Mac notebook line hasn’t changed much in the past six years, since the aluminum models were introduced. True, the aluminum case is more sturdy, the screens are better, the machines are faster, cooler, more durable, blah, blah, blah. Timeless design will get you that.
So it is with the timeless design of the Mac mini. Like any Mac, it’s cute, functional, feels solid and durable, has most of what most users need out of the box, and the “out of the box experience” is similar to any new Mac.
The latest Mac mini models are faster, come with more RAM, better graphics, bigger hard drives, more display port options, more USB ports, Airport Extreme, and SuperDrive for DVD burning.
For some, the Mac mini represents a first Mac, but for most, the Mac mini is probably a second Mac, or, for many switchers, their first Mac to go alongside a PC (because who doesn’t already have extra keyboard, mouse, and screen).
So, the Mac mini is a value Mac? Not so fast. Welcome to pricing migration. True, $599 is a good, competitive start. It’s a Mac, and just a few hundred dollars more than el cheapo PCs from Dell, Gateway, HP, and others.
The $599 price tag can exit Value Land™ very fast. Add a gig of RAM and a bigger hard drive and the price tag balloons to $799. Another $100 gets you 4 gigs of RAM. Another $150 moves to the incrementally faster 2.26 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU.
An Apple keyboard and mouse will set you back $98. Heaven forbid if you need one of Apple’s crisp new LED Cinema Displays. Say goodbye to another $899.
In other words, a full loaded Mac mini is suddenly $2,046. The price tag of the fully loaded, Dawg almighty powerful 24-inch iMac is only $2,199—a mere $150 more than tricked out, pimped up Mac mini.
What’s wrong with this picture? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so must product pricing migration be in the mind of the buyer. In other words, when it comes to the Mac mini, buy what you need, buy what you may need, but don’t get carried away.
The Mac mini is what it is. Nothing less. Nothing more. It’s not a cheap Mac. Relatively inexpensive, yes. Cheap? No. Don’t buy a Toyota Corolla and expect to add enough options to make it a Lexus.
Back to the question: can Apple make a less expensive Mac? The answer is yes. But they won’t. That’s not how Apple works. Since this is a weekend, I’ll give you some additional food for thought.
Will Apple ever put OS X on non-Apple branded PCs? In other words, let Dell or HP or whomever sell OS X on their machines? The answer is oh so easy. No. It will not happen. There’s no bona fide reason for Apple to do something oh so stupid. Again.
UPDATE – Macworld has a nice article on benchmarks for the new Mac mini.