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  • Apple’s Stealth Product Introductions Revisited

    August 8th, 2007

    Now perhaps Steve Jobs didn’t want to stretch out the session any further, not wanting to bore the assembled reporters or those watching the online version. But several product announcements came in under the radar. In fact, they were so low-key, they didn’t even merit press releases.

    Talk about getting a tepid send-off. It reminds me of the movies that aren’t previewed for critics, because the producers fear they will get bad reviews. They hope that they’ll make enough money on the first weekend to make up for poor word-of-mouth and scathing write-ups.

    But there’s nothing about the upgraded Mac mini that should warrant disparaging remarks. Admittedly, it doesn’t take a lot of research and development to plug in faster processors, extra memory and larger hard drives. That’s the sort of upgrade pattern that can be repeated for several years without changing the basic product. Then again, don’t PC box makers do that as well?

    Regardless of the fact that the Mac mini remains under the radar, I think it’s a damned good computer. I have several friends who bought them, actually upgrading from G4 minitowers. Sure, maybe the hard drive isn’t so fast, and the graphics aren’t quite game ready, but the mini excels at most of the tasks regular people perform. Besides, if you have a leftover set of input devices and a monitor that still use useful life, the Mac mini is the cheapest way to take advantage of the latest and greatest that Apple has to offer. Or at least if you’re not doing high definition video editing or 3D rendering, of course.

    It’s also a convenient way for Mac switchers to join in on all the fun without having to pay an arm and a leg. Besides, how many cheap PCs come close to the Mac mini when it comes to good looks and a reasonably complete set of standard features? In fact, how many of those computers even offer 1GB of standard RAM?

    The other upgrade that arrived without any fanfare involved the AirPort Extreme. When the “n” version debuted in January, the critics said that Apple had short-changed you by not including gigabit Ethernet ports. Now I don’t understand the logic there, unless the cost of chips were, at the time, too high to keep the price from going much above the $179 level.

    Well, regardless of the reasoning — and we’ll never know unless Steve Jobs writes a tell-all book about his experiences at Apple after he retires — it’s a worthwhile improvement.

    Now if you have the older version, you don’t need to throw it out. That is, unless your Internet connection exceeds 100 megabits, of course!

    What I did was simply to link my AirPort Extreme to my existing Netgear eight-port gigabit Ethernet switch. That device cost me about $80 when I acquired it a couple of years ago, and I see no need to toss it and the AirPort in the trash heap. In fact, this may just be a simple upgrade path for you, since you’ll get extra ports in the process, except that Netgear has perfectly awful tech support. Just a word to the wise.

    The third upgrade is a peripheral for the Mac Pro and Xserve, a new RAID card that lists for $999. Other than the speedy redundancy with multiple hard drives that such a card delivers, this one sports a 72-hour backup battery for the built-in cache.

    All right, the Mac Pro RAID card isn’t a terribly sexy device, but it does demonstrate Apple’s strong commitment to improving its presence in the business marketplace. Another notable factor is the addition of FireWire 800 to all versions of the iMac, rather than just the 24-inch model, and the ability to custom order a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme processor. That’s a chip that was, as of this week at least, unavailable to other PC companies.

    Indeed, I’m just wondering whether a fair number of folks who might have purchased Mac Pros are now considering the iMac instead. Really, if you don’t need to add peripheral cards, extra hard drives or swap out the graphics card, it may well be that the iMac is a suitable — and much cheaper — substitute for many business users.

    You should surely expect really good performance with the standard array of graphics applications on a new iMac, such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. The standard range of number crunching software should also provide stellar performance, and only those who need cutting-edge rendering speeds will find much lacking in the iMac. This is particularly true if you’re planning to upgrade from a G4 or even most variants of the G5.

    But perhaps the most important thing about Tuesday’s event came during the brief question and answer session. Steve Jobs remarked that Apple wouldn’t go toe-to-toe with cheap PC makers, because they won’t build and ship “junk.”

    That’s not just a reflection of his reality distortion field, in my opinion. It is an expression of Apple’s DNA. They always seem to try their very best, even if they do mess up on occasion.



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    7 Responses to “Apple’s Stealth Product Introductions Revisited”

    1. Norman Brooks says:

      Just a followup to your earlier posts on the Mac mini. Today I ordered one of the new ones. I’ve been delaying my shift from my G5 tower until I could get a 64-bit mini. The 64-bit mini arrived yesterday, and I ordered one today! I wonder how many of the previous participants in these discussions have taken the same step.

    2. milo says:

      The big problem, and proof that Steve really hates the Mini and will go to any length to kill its sales: it is now the only computer Apple sells that does not support 802.11n wireless. I cannot fathom this, and cannot purchase such a computer. At $499, maybe I could understand this deficiency… but unlike every other Apple product ever sold, the Mini costs MORE now than it did when it was introduced! $600 for the base system, and now the only way to use the full speed of my network is to buy a $179 Airport station or an expensive, third-party, possibly-warranty-voiding aftermarket upgrade.

      Sorry, no dice. I’m off to buy an AppleTV, and install OS X on it to let it be my web server/NAS/wireless base station/etc. RIP Mac Mini.

    3. David W says:

      How many cheap PCs come with 1GB of RAM? All of them. In fact I see a lot of ads for what you might call bargain basement PCs with 2GB of RAM. Sure they come in cheap, ugly cases and may have noisy, inefficient power supplies, but they tend to kill the Mac mini and iMac in almost every other category. Given that Apple is really just another PC manufacturer now (same components, same Chinese labor putting them together) the gap is hard to defend to anyone other than AAPL shareholders.

      The best thing about the mini is how small and quiet it is. Unfortunately that’s also the reason why it’s expensive and slow.

      We’ll never get a reasonably priced, modular, desktop Mac because His Steveness believes that all non-pro users want an appliance, a sealed box that just works. I think he also believes the era of the desktop computer is essentially over, that most people are happier with notebooks. If that was true it would certainly be good for Apple because notebooks have a high average price and need to be replaced more often than desktops. Not only that, but each family member in a notebook-centric scenario typically has his or her own machine. In desktop-centric computing machines are often shared. All this put together means the same number of households generate dramatically higher sales, something that gives salesmen wet dreams.

    4. The big problem, and proof that Steve really hates the Mini and will go to any length to kill its sales: it is now the only computer Apple sells that does not support 802.11n wireless. I cannot fathom this, and cannot purchase such a computer. At $499, maybe I could understand this deficiency… but unlike every other Apple product ever sold, the Mini costs MORE now than it did when it was introduced! $600 for the base system, and now the only way to use the full speed of my network is to buy a $179 Airport station or an expensive, third-party, possibly-warranty-voiding aftermarket upgrade.

      Sorry, no dice. I’m off to buy an AppleTV, and install OS X on it to let it be my web server/NAS/wireless base station/etc. RIP Mac Mini.

      Perhaps Steve’s bean counters say it would cost a few dollars more, and they were watching the profit margins on the mini. Or perhaps not, though installing a third party “n” card shouldn’t hurt your warranty, if you do it with care.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Bill says:

      The Mini has now been upgraded to MacBook specs (you don’t have to spend $300 to upgrade it to C2D yourself)

      That’s plenty fast for most users, considering how well the MacBook sells.

      802.11n is simply not ready for primetime – there’s no final standard, and draft-n products are NOT well behaved (you’ll trash everybody else’s wireless-g network with most draft-n products)

      The Mini is the real bargain of Tuesday’s updates.

      I’ll be picking up a base model to replace the eMac when that Mini hits the refurb store for $499.

      Thanks to Apple for saving me several hundred dollars (had it not been updated, I’d have bought an iMac instead)

    6. My previous computer purchase was a PowerBook G4. Yesterday I placed an order for a 2.8GHz iMac. Maybe desktops aren’t dead yet. 🙂

    7. My previous computer purchase was a PowerBook G4. Yesterday I placed an order for a 2.8GHz iMac. Maybe desktops aren’t dead yet. 🙂

      Just so long as people like you keep buying them.

      Peace,
      Gene

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