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  • The WWDC Report #4: The Products Apple Doesn’t Talk About

    June 11th, 2008

    You know that this year’s WWDC was designed first and foremost to be an iPhone event. That’s why you didn’t hear much about Snow Leopard, Mac OS 10.6, which has features that are of more interest to developers than the rest of us. In fact, most of the information about Snow Leopard was provided under Apple’s typically rigorous nondisclosure agreement, and only a brief press release and some online highlights were actually revealed in public.

    For the same reason, it makes a lot of sense that the rumors of a major refashioning of the MacBook didn’t come to pass. This wasn’t the venue for introducing a brand new consumer note-book computer. Besides, the newest Intel chipsets aren’t even available yet, so if there is going to be a big change, in case structure and otherwise, it won’t happen for another month or two, in time for the back-to-school season.

    The other rumor, this one the silliest of the batch, spoke of a Mac Fusion, some sort of development environment that would be designed for working on the Mac OS, Windows and Linux on the very same box. But you can do that now, so I fail to see the upside.

    Apple has, though, real products in its catalog that it seldom mentions anymore. The most obvious is the Mac mini, whose case design inspired the AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule and, of course, Apple TV. But, beyond a minor processor update last year, this unsung hero of the Mac lineup hasn’t been mentioned one bit, and this is quite unfortunate.

    You see, the Mac mini is a terrific switcher’s computer. At $599 or $799, plus the necessary RAM upgrade, you can use your existing display and input devices, more or less. Although it has note-book-based internals, meaning a rather pokey hard drive, performance is actually quite decent for the most part. While you won’t see much in the way of gaming performance, the sort of tasks the home or small business user routinely requires of a personal computer can be handled quite well, thank you.

    Sure it may seem pricey in comparison with those $399 and $499 Windows boxes that are available at the discount superstores, but Apple provides a lot more value, and even those on a budget ought to seriously consider a mini instead.

    Unfortunately, Apple’s entry-level box is perennially placed on the endangered species list, with the suggestion that it’ll either be replaced, or quietly discontinued. I hope not, but if Apple is using sales performance as a guide for what to build and what to cancel, maybe they’d sell more minis if they’d spend a few dollars promoting them.

    The other neglected product is Apple’s display line. It hasn’t changed in several years, except for some minor performance improvements and a lower price. But none of the three displays Apple builds are really competitive when you calculate the cost. You can, for example, get a great 24-inch display from Dell for less than $500. Apple’s equivalent, the 23-inch HD Display, is $899.

    Sure, Apple’s brush aluminum case is prettier. But is that worth an extra $400? Not to me, and maybe not to others unless your design sensibilities and checkbook allow you buy the more expensive product.

    What’s surprising to me is that Apple has been pretty much ignoring its display line. I mean, they surely sell enough Mac Pros to warrant providing the complete package, and what about the Mac mini? Since ditching the proprietary ADC display scheme, any HD Display is perfectly suited to the Windows market too. But then again, the Windows user knows they can get cheaper — and sometimes better products — elsewhere.

    Myself, I stick with my trusty 30-inch Dell display.

    Even more troubling is the fact that, taken just for its display component, today’s iMac actually impresses you as being sleeker and nicer to look at. It also seems somewhat thinner than the standalone display, and that indicates that the latter is long overdue for a refresh.

    In fact, if you didn’t see an Apple display in one of their stores or in the online catalog, you might never even know Apple had such products to begin with.

    Now I don’t pretend to know their future product plans, and the rumor sites are, at best, only partly right. However, it would be unfortunate if Apple were to dispatch the Mac mini and HD Display to their final resting places. Both products have plenty of mileage left, so long as there’s the proper degree of redesign and enhancement.

    And maybe, just maybe, with a few dollars spent for a decent ad campaign.



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