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.