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  • So Much for Apple Abandoning the Mac!

    June 15th, 2010

    In the wake of a WWDC devoid of Mac-related announcements, beyond a press release to introduce Safari 5 for Mac and Windows, some ill-informed pundits have again declared the Mac dead and buried. This is the sort of thing they do to fill blogs and incorporate misguided analyst comments, without bothering to see what’s really going on.

    Actually, Mac sales have continued to climb ahead of the PC market as a whole, and on Tuesday morning, Apple released a major refresh to the Mac mini. For the first time, they ditched the plastic case, and went aluminum. As you might expect, the internal workings are more powerful, with a slightly faster Intel Core 2 Duo processor, more powerful NVIDIA-based integrated graphics, and a larger hard drive.

    The extras include a separate HDMI port for direct connection to your flat panel TV and an SD card slot, the later the same as you find in most MacBook Pros. But the critics are sniping at the increase in the purchase price of the entry-level model from $599 to $699. This is unfortunate, because it would seem that the value of the added parts would compensate for the price change.

    More to the point, Apple has evidently worked hard to make the new Mac mini an easier pill to swallow. For one thing, you don’t need a putty knife or a similar implement to open the case and add memory. There’s a removable panel on the bottom of the unit, something that we have been asking for ever since the original Mac mini debuted in 2005. With two readily available slots, you can increase onboard RAM to 8GB, and you don’t have to restrict yourself to the Apple brand which adds $500 to the purchase price.

    All right, if you want to change the hard drive, the task is clearly more onerous, but I’ll let the teardown experts figure out the easiest methods to perform that chore. Or just add $100 to the purchase price to get a custom built version that increases drive capacity from the standard 320GB to 500GB. That would appear to be worthwhile, since you don’t have to hand over money to a service person to do the task for you.

    The other big improvement is the integrated power supply. No longer do you have to concern yourself about managing another huge power brick below your desk.

    Whether there will be resistance from would-be purchasers go the Mac mini price boost is anyone’s guess. In any case, the server version, which sports a pair of 500GB drives, Snow Leopard Server, but no optical drive, remains at $999.

    Forgetting the response to the latest and greatest Mac mini, that Apple was willing to invest in a very new form factor after more than five years makes it quite clear that this model lineup has a future. Adding HDMI also portends a possible Apple TV replacement, although it’s clear the end game isn’t apparent just yet. But clearly the Mac mini has meant to function in your living room.

    Typical of recent Mac hardware updates, the arrival of the Mac mini was heralded with a simple press release. That leaves the Mac Pro and the MacBook Air getting long in the tooth, but it’s always possible one or both will receive a refresh in the next few weeks.

    My friends, this is probably pretty much the routine you are going to see when it comes to new Mac introductions. The only difference will be the launch of Mac OS 10.7, which clearly isn’t going to happen until some time in 2011. At that point in time, Apple will no doubt unveil the specifics at a special media event or WWDC conference. There will, of course, workshops for developers to help them master the new features and make their apps fully compatible.

    Although I’m not into making predictions, the earliest possible release date for Snow Leopard’s successor would probably be the fall of 2011. There is really no incentive for Apple to rush things. PC hardware, aside from those dreadful netbooks, is largely unchanged, and there’s nothing so compelling in Windows 7 that Apple is forced to work any harder to devise a new operating system reference release. They can take their time and release 10.7 when it’s ready, not based on anyone’s timetable.

    More to the point, I think it is clear that the Mac, as successful as it remains, will ultimately be largely supplanted by the iPad, a successor, or someone else’s product for most regular users. Content creators will demand heavy-duty hardware as always, though I suppose there will be more advanced tablet-based devices that could serve as traditional PC replacements.

    But that’s something I don’t think anyone has to worry about for the next few years. There’s no question that you’ll still be seeing plenty of “death of the Mac” pronouncements between now and then. Just take those claims for what they are worth, which is next to nothing.



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    9 Responses to “So Much for Apple Abandoning the Mac!”

    1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gene Steinberg, breizh2008. breizh2008 said: RT @macnightowl: Here's my latest Tech Night Owl commentary: : So Much for Apple Abandoning the Mac! http://bit.ly/bhzJFG […]

    2. Jocca says:

      I think we are still waiting for all the important programs to be converted to 64 bits, to take full advantage of Snow Leopard which is barely two years old. There is not point to upgrade an OS every other year given that it is so powerful already and I can see Apple going three to four years between upgrade without impacting its computer business. Meanwhile, the world is going mobile big time with Apple playing a leading part in this revolution and I can understand why they are devoting so much energy there.

    3. David says:

      CPUs get faster, GPUs get faster, hard drives get bigger, most companies include more RAM. Those things are expected every year without price increases.

      Apple included a marginally faster CPU, nVidia’s current chipset, a bigger HD and left the RAM at 2GB. They simply moved with the market which doesn’t justify any change in price.

      What we’re seeing at play here is 1st year economics. Demand is high so you raise prices to the point you believe will maximize profit.

    4. dfs says:

      Apple’s original idea was to create as inexpensive an entry-level Mac as possible, to attract as many new users as possible, and maybe also to appeal to purchasers of K-12 schools. Its new price level suggests that Apple has lost sight of this goal, which is too bad, because it is still a valid one. Unless perhaps Apple thinks of the iPad as a substitute an entry-level computer. If so, they’re wrong. Maybe some day this will be true, but the current iPad is too limited to substitute for a real computer, because it lacks an easy way to import/export files and has no printing capacity.

    5. David says:

      @Gene
      Switching from mini DVI to HDMI probably saved Apple money and trading a USB port for an SD slot can’t have changed the cost of production by more than a few pennies. The big cost increase comes from the new unibody case. However, that was a voluntary change made by Apple in order to improve the machine aesthetics. The technical specs only received predictable upgrades.

      Like most Macs the new mini is aimed at the demographic that buys on aesthetic and “green” bases and does not care about frames per second. Apple is perfectly willing to take only the cream off the top and leave the vast majority of the market to the PC manufacturers.

      So naturally I disagree with dfs. The Mac mini has always been about small size, lack of noise and low energy consumption. Had the very first mini come in a slightly bigger box it would have allowed them to use processors costing half as much and hard drives offering 4x the storage per dollar so it’s clear that a low entry price was not a high priority.

      Apple sees itself and wants to be seen as a premium brand. They cannot price aggressively without serious risk to that image.

      • @David, You haven’t read the specs carefully enough. It has a Mini DisplayPort AND HDMI, plus four USB ports. What did they give up?

        Peace,
        Gene

        • David says:

          @Gene Steinberg, I never said they gave up anything. The 5th USB port was sacrificed but made up for with an SD slot.

          Old vs. new

          2.26 -> 2.4 GHz
          9400M -> 320M
          160 -> 320 GB
          Mini DisplayPort + mini DVI -> Mini DisplayPort + HDMI
          5 USB ports -> 4 USB ports + SD
          Brick power supply -> internal power supply

          I originally replied because you asserted that the improved specs justified a price increase while I see such incremental improvements as nothing more than using this year’s components instead of last year’s.

          We agree that the new case is awesome and probably costs more to manufacture. To me the improved appeal would have increased sales enough to offset the increased production costs, but Apple doesn’t operate that way. They don’t accept reduced profit margins on any Mac even if the net result is fewer unit sales.

          My debating point with dfs was his/her assertion that Apple’s primary goal with the mini was to make it inexpensive. I have never believed that to be true. Back when the mini first came out there was a significant price premium on all notebook components. Apple incurred large penalties in performance and component cost because they wanted to make the new machine so small. Had they stuck with a case the same size as the Cube the Mini could have had better specs and been up to $100 less without sacrificing the almighty profit margin.

          • @David, The changes are also what you’d expect if you bought last year’s model and upgraded the hard drive and processor, plus the addition of HDMI of course. I would consider the substitution of SD for a single USB port of equal value.

            Peace,
            Gene

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