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  • Is the Mac Mini a Bait and Switch Scheme?

    December 25th, 2008

    At one time, Apple had to endure the accusation that they were overcharging for their products. You had to pay the alleged “Apple Tax” if you went Mac, whereas the PC was clearly a whole lot cheaper.

    Well, these days that’s not quite true. When you compare a Mac with name-brand PCs with similar hardware and software configurations, matched as closely as possible, the Mac is highly competitive. What I mean is that sometimes the PC will be a little cheaper, and sometimes the Mac comes out ahead.

    Just so there’s no further confusion, I’m not about to argue the point of whether all features in a Mac are actually needed or not. That’s not the point. What you get is what you get, and customization choices are kept very limited, although there are more possibilities at the high end, for the Mac Pro.

    What’s more, I’m definitely not talking about the so-called “white box” PCs that you buy at discount stores or assemble yourself. Sure you can save money, but you might be out of luck when you need tech support, unless you prefer to do every little thing yourself.

    I do think the Mac mini was simply meant to be a product to get people in the door, particularly those who felt they couldn’t afford a Mac. Consider the way auto dealers operate. They will advertise an uber-cheap model for an exceptionally low price to entice you to check them out.

    Once you get to the showroom, they probably even have a few of those vehicles available. Usually, though, the colors are all wrong, and they are so bereft of the really cool options, such as power windows, iPod jacks and even a decent radio, that you really wouldn’t want to take one home unless you were totally desperate for basic transportation.

    The plan is, of course, to upsell you to something from which the dealer can exact a real profit. Of course these days that’s not so easy. Assuming you can even get financed — and that’s by no means a given anymore — you may not qualify for the model you want. You may have to compromise, and the dealer will only be too happy to put you into something, anything, to help clear the overcrowded lots.

    Now I realize some of you own a Mac mini, and you’re quite ready to dispute my contention that Apple doesn’t really care if they sell any or not, that it’s just a promotional gimmick, particularly for the converted PC user who is accustomed to cheap hardware. Indeed, with a full complement of memory, the mini is quite a decent computer. It’s a worthy product for offices, schools and they even serve duty as Web servers. Yes, I’m quite serious about that, though you have to wonder how long a mini can sustain 24/7 use before self-destructing.

    But when you consider the way it was packaged, you see that maybe Apple didn’t quite sweat the details, as they do with other hardware. Take the intimidating process of adding RAM or replacing a hard drive. For that chore, you need to be handy with a putty knife or similar implement to pry open the case without inflicting damage. The Intel-based mini is worse than the original, designed so you also have to remove the hard drive before getting at the RAM slots. Explain that to me, anyone, other than to keep the product as user-hostile as possible, in hopes you’ll buy a MacBook or iMac instead.

    There are indeed easier solutions, such as placing four recessed screws at the bottom of the mini’s sleek case. You should be able to remove them in two minutes, and they wouldn’t detract from the product’s looks at all. Who looks at the bottom of the mini anyway other than to take it to a different location (and maybe not even then) or to perform the upgrade?

    Or maybe, just maybe, members of the Apple engineering team who designed the equally inappropriate chassis layouts for some of those 1990’s Macs, such as the infamous Quadra 800, had a hand in creating the mini. I don’t know for sure; I’m just speculating here.

    Of course, a highly-anticipated requiem for the Mac mini might very well arrive at Macworld Expo 2009. Perhaps Apple VP Philip Schiller — replacing Steve Jobs for the keynote — will proudly unveil a totally redesigned mini, perhaps with a slimmer case more reminiscent of Time Machine or the Apple TV. Maybe it’ll contain the innards of a MacBook, replete with that NVIDIA GeForce 9400M chip that’s gotten rave reviews as a real solution for great integrated graphics.

    Apple may not even have wanted to approach the Mac mini seriously, and it may have even been on the chopping block for a while. But fears of an ongoing economic collapse are forcing people to lower their expectations when it comes to buying a new personal computer. A revitalized Mac mini, perhaps for an entry-level price of $499, might be just the ticket to keep Apple’s sales moving in the right direction.

    A bait and switch scheme? Maybe at one time, but things have changed, and I trust Apple will do the right thing for this long-neglected product.



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    22 Responses to “Is the Mac Mini a Bait and Switch Scheme?”

    1. Adam says:

      Yeah, the RAM layout for the mini is atrocious. The reason for the switch in position, IMHO, is that when they switched architecture the redesigned the board and now that there are 2 RAM slots they needed a place where both would fit. True, they went from DIMM to SO-DIMM format but 2 SO-DIMMS and the release clips for them simply would not fit along the edge of the MLB as did one full length slot. Could they have done a better design? Sure, and having added RAM to many of them in the Apple Store I really wish they had! From Apple’s point of view, though, this machine is targeted specifically at the type of user who will configure a computer and never ever upgrade it again. The facts that it is plenty powerful enough for more technically proficient users doesn’t enter into the picture (unfortunately). Nor does the fact that Apple’s extra RAM is horribly over priced (something that seems to be changing with the unibody portables). It’s designed to be a sexy draw for the computing simplicity crowd, period.

      As for the case design, see the above. This is a product which was too narrowly designed for too narrow of a target consumer. I also hope they do a better job of redesigning it soon. After all, if the unwieldy G4 (“lampshade”) iMac could be user upgradeable (RAM anyway), then the ultra light Mini should be also!

      Adam

    2. Webomatica says:

      Yeah – a Mini owner myself, the RAM upgrade was a serious chore, hairy enough that I would be loathe to do it again. I think Apple just applied the assumption that users wouldn’t have much need to open it – the same thinking applied to the iPods, iPhone, (non user replaceable batteries) Apple TV, and even the more expensive MacBook Air. I think this is a bad design desicion on Apple’s part for all those products and not limited to just the Mac Mini.

    3. Alfiejr says:

      well, this dumb post only makes sense if you don’t let facts get in the way. like the fact the Mini consistently was the best Amazon bestselling desktop all year until its upcoming refresh was ‘announced’ in November. or the fact it is the Mac most used by businesses (which generally need only a basic headless lower priced model). and who else does Apple plan to sell those fancy new Cinema Displays to? (those zillions of Mac Pro owners?)

      the Mini does a great job of filling a specific market segment for Apple (the under $1,000 desktop market), and meeting specific needs for a large group of Mac buyers (business workstation, cheap server, second home computer, or media center). the Snow Leopard-ready update coming next month will certainly reinforce its popularity (particularly with the media users, who always like more speed/power).

      it’s a fair question if Apple will drop the Mini’s $600+ price, given the overall trend in the computer market and the economy. or perhaps keep the current 2007 model in production at a much lower price like $400, as it did with the plastic MacBook when the new aluminum MacBooks were released a few months ago. i think it’s likely Apple will do one or the other.

    4. hmurchison says:

      I LOVE my mini. It’s a small and quiet computer that just have personality. In some ways it’s got more charm than the LCD screen masquerading around as a computer (iMac).

      I think Apple wanted to kill the mini but they’ve found it it bit more sturdy than they had imagined. Businesses use the mini, consumers still love the mini (It’s a Top 5 Amazon bestseller).

      The reasons are simple. In a family of 4 what is the more affordable option for equipping everyone?

      Mac mini- $600 * 4= $2400 + the price of monitor/keyboard/mouse
      iMac Entry- $1200 * 4 = $4800

      Which is the more palatable for the avg family? That’s an easy one.

      I think Apple should offer a $499 Mac mini which is perfect for student use or as an aux computer
      drop the optical drive and clock it down a bit.

      Then for $699 they could give the works. This way a multi computer household has the ability to somewhat tailor the computer for their environment. At this level the money for Apple is in the
      management of this HAN (Home Area Network)

      Mobile Me Family pack should be a given. I’d also like to see something akin to Apple Remote
      Desktop Home Edition for managing up to 10 network devices (including iPhone and Apple TV)

      “It’s the software stupid” that’s where the money is at. Apple’s fighting an uphill battle trying to
      keep the margins high on commodity computing hardware. Evolve MobileMe and market the hell out of it to iPhone users and users with multiple computers. Make iLife more network aware and give us some sort of central storage and the fear about low cost computers will subside.

    5. jollyprez says:

      I’ve purchased 30 MacMinis for use in business for various purposes. Cash registers. Surveillance cameras. Servers. Etc.. Great machine, great footprint.

      Having so many of these machines, from the very first version to the latest – I’ve had exactly one failure. That was a hard drive, which was fixed under warranty.

      The surveillance systems go 24 hours a day, and no probs for 3+ years.

      I hope they keep selling these puppies – Apple has no other machine that I would use as a cash register, and certainly don’t need to pay for a screen I’ll never use with several headless applications.

      jolly

    6. qka says:

      As for the durability of the Mac Mini running 24/7/365, ask the folks at MacMiniCoLo ( http://www.macminicolo.net/ ) and others who use Minis in large, commercial server farms.

      Disclaimer: I have now relationship with MacMiniCoLo, I am just aware of their service.

    7. perk says:

      I am on my third mini. I just love them. I am a graphic designer and an application programmer. I previously used Windows on custom built intel hardware. With 3 GB of ram and a 7200rpm hard drive, the performance is superb for all for but heavy video editing and gaming.

      I change monitors according to the project at hand, sometimes size is important for programming using Eclipse and I use the 24″, other times accurate color rendition is critical, and I swap out to another monitor. For trips, I pack the mini and access it though VNC from windows laptop.

      My previously owned mini’s are still in use by friends or clients, for anything from a sling-box running debian to a a retail point of sale (cash register) at a print shop.

      The mac-mini is truly a classic. It will be long remembered as such.

    8. perk says:

      The Mac Mini reminds me of the original VW Beetle. It evolved and had a long life and is still considered a fine product today.

    9. perk wrote:

      The Mac Mini reminds me of the original VW Beetle. It evolved and had a long life and is still considered a fine product today.

      For years, for some reason I wanted a Beetle, but never seemed to be able to get the right deal or financing. I have had two VWs however. First, a Passat and later a Jetta (which my son uses). For the most part, they were very good cars, with just a little flakiness as far as reliability is concerned.

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. Keyword says:

      Good grief! The Beetle was an awful car. An example: the heater had two positions – permanently stuck off or permanently stuck on. Gas gauges never worked – just a nightmare. A cheap nightmare but still a nightmare.

      I’d like to see a 1U tall mini designed so you could fit 3 across in a 1U bracket with a quad-core processor. For rendering farms.

    11. David says:

      I will never understand the current mini selling so well. $599 for a 16 month old machine that was on the verge of obsolescence the day it was introduced is insane.

      The minis we have at work are absolutely terrible performers. They have stock RAM and HDs which is probably a big part of the issue, but everyone hates being stuck with them.

      Hopefully the 2009 mini will borrow the motherboard from the new MacBook.

    12. Viewer says:

      Is the Mac Mini a Bait and Switch Scheme? A dumb question.
      Bait and switch is an illegal tactic usually involving advertising one thing and then refusing to sell it at the advertised price, while pushing the customer to a higher priced different product. That is not what Apple does.

      You are an ass!

    13. Glenn says:

      My wife uses an Core Duo mini as a Vista box. I like it quite a bit with the exception of the integrated graphics which drag down the overall performance of the machine. Assuming Apple does come up with a new model, I would hope and expect they would use the same NVidia chipset found in the unibody MacBook. This would be part of their strategy of out competing Microsoft in the performance arena over the next year with the combination of OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), OpenCL, Grand Central, 64-bit processors, and decent general purpose GPUs across their product line.

      But her Mini is pretty good as it is: small, quiet and adept at what my wife does 98% of the time. I’m just saying a better GPU plus Snow Leopard would make it into quite the tiny powerhouse.

    14. Andrew says:

      Rubbish!

      Apple does not DO cheap loss leaders. The Mini is a good PC if its spec is what you want. Out of 100 Apple PC’s I have bought over 2 years, 6 were Minis, 4 of them servers. Still going good ……..

    15. Viewer wrote:

      Is the Mac Mini a Bait and Switch Scheme? A dumb question.
      Bait and switch is an illegal tactic usually involving advertising one thing and then refusing to sell it at the advertised price, while pushing the customer to a higher priced different product. That is not what Apple does.

      You are an ass!

      My friend, I’ve been called a whole lot worse. 🙂

      From a legal standpoint, you are correct, and I never said otherwise. From a practical standpoint, if the vendor is using the cheap product to entice you into the store, in hopes you’ll buy the more expensive model, the effect is the same. It doesn’t matter if they do have the advertised product available at the advertised price.

      Peace,
      Gene

    16. iVoltage says:

      Viewer wrote:

      Is the Mac Mini a Bait and Switch Scheme? A dumb question.
      Bait and switch is an illegal tactic usually involving advertising one thing and then refusing to sell it at the advertised price, while pushing the customer to a higher priced different product. That is not what Apple does.

      You are an ass!

      Ever heard of iTools? If I am not mistaken, this long-forgotten progenitor of .Mac and Mobile Me was originally touted by Apple as “free for life”. It wasn’t until iTools was abruptly “transitioned” to a paid service some time later that we understood exactly what Steve Jobs had meant by his MWSF proclamation. He had, of course, been referring to its life expectancy as a complimentary product. Silly us.

    17. Daniel Reeders says:

      It’s not technically a bait and switch, although, unlike “Viewer” above, I am capable of thinking metaphorically and therefore also capable of understanding your point. Dan Ariely in “Predictably Irrational” explains how, faced with an unappealing low-end option and an appealing but pricey high-end option, most people will choose the middle option, simply because it’s in the middle. Before the Mini, the iMac may have suffered from a ‘missing bracket’ problem – maybe people saw the iMac as the low-end alternative to the superior product, the PowerMac.

    18. Boston Joe says:

      I purchased my first Mac, the Mini, about a month or so after they were first introduced. Far from being a “bait and switch” sell, my motivation was simple. I was tired of spending half of my weekends running anti-virus/spam/spyware programs, and various security updates on the PCs in my house as well as those of my neighbor. At $600 a throw, I viewed the Mac mini as a relatively low risk way to see if there was a better way, and there was. Over the course of the next six months, I replaced by wife’s PC with and iBook, and my father and sister’s PC’s with Mac minis. They have all performed beyond my expectations, and I have my weekends back. The computing needs of my father and sister are such that the Mini continues to work well for them- web surfing, emails, the occasional needs for word processing and a spreadsheet.

      That said, last Christmas I did upgrade to an iMac. I was perfectly happy with my Mini’s performance, but I saw a friend’s iMac and went ga-ga over the display quality compared to my old Dell CRT. That plus the cost of upgrading from Tiger to Leopard, made springing for the iMac a viable option.

      The bottom line is, I would have never coughed up the $ for an iMac at the time in bought the Mini, and I’d still be diagnosing/fixing PC problems on my weekends. I fervently hope Apple does a meaningful upgrade/refresh of the Mini soon. It is a great little machine that needs to be in the product line up.

    19. vmarks says:

      Keyword wrote:

      Good grief! The Beetle was an awful car. An example: the heater had two positions – permanently stuck off or permanently stuck on. Gas gauges never worked – just a nightmare. A cheap nightmare but still a nightmare.

      I’d like to see a 1U tall mini designed so you could fit 3 across in a 1U bracket with a quad-core processor. For rendering farms.

      The Beetle was a fine car budget car in 1937. The heater levers operated flaps via a cable, so they were linear in nature – move the lever a crack, the heater flap was opened a crack. That fact that the fan moving the air was the same fan moving the air cooling the engine was an efficient use of engineering, but shows that it isn’t the amount the vent is open that matters, it’s the speed of the fan pushing the air that makes you feel hotter or cooler, and where those vents are located – the Beetle had them at your feet, which isn’t nearly as nice as hot air blowing on your hands, face, or window.

      The gas gauges always worked for about the first ten years of the car’s life, and then you had to replace the sending unit in the tank (easy) or the unit behind the gauge that prevented the gauge from oscillating with every turn signal flash. Modern cars seem to have these parts last a little longer, although they still use the same parts and the parts still do fail.

      Air cooled engines lasted until just a few years ago when Porsche finally decided their future lay in water-cooled. Flat cylinder boxer engines are still in use in Subaru and Porsche. Those were some of the things that made a Beetle a Beetle.

      So, what makes a Mac a Mac? What design decisions have become hallmarks of the thing? At one time it was an Apple menu and an application switcher. Then it became a dock. The menu bar seems to be the area of consistency.

    20. JS says:

      I don’t think I would classify this as a “Bait-and-Switch” so much as an “Upsell”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upsell

      Yes, the MacMini is lacking in the expansion department, but for the form factor and price, this is to be expected.

      I probably shouldn’t talk since I don’t have a MacMini, but I am in the market for a new Intel Mac in the not-so-distant future.

      From what I hear, this machine is great for everyday use and a simple media/web server.

      I also hear people complaining about performance issues.

      Some of this can be resolved with using a program called XSlimmer:

      http://www.xslimmer.com/

      This program will remove unused language localizations and will also “strip” PowerPC code from a Universal Binary to keep your applications Intel Code specific–this slims down and allows program code to execute faster since the processor doesn’t have to wade through the “bloat” of the Universal Binary.

      I don’t work for or sell XSlimmer–I just know it works….

      Currently, I am using a PowerPC machine which I used XSlimmer on–many of the programs were stripped down to half their file size by eliminating unused language localizations and the Intel code not needed by my PowerPC machine.

      Best Wishes to Everyone in the New Year!

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