A Very mini Macworld

The last round of product releases by Apple at Macworld San Francisco on the 11th were pretty amazing. The iPod shuffle is amazingly tiny, about the size of a normal thumb drive, and priced very similar too, to such devices without an integrated player.

Although I'd personally not be interested in getting one of my own, I'm sure I'd appeal to a lot of people especially with it's impulse-purchase price of USD 99 (AUD149). With 29% of total market share belonging to inexpensive Flash-based players, the iPod shuffle is going straight for the jugular.

It's quite interesting to read too, that many existing iPod users are interested in the iPod shuffle as a complement to their full-sized iPod. On some forums I've read that they'd like the iPod shuffle for it's tiny size and weight and the fact that it's flash-based and totally skip free. For use on quick commutes and while working out. Besides, with approximately 120 songs on the 512MB model, that still amounts to about 8 hours of continuous music. Not too shabby I'd say.

The Mac mini is an odd one though. It doesn't fit into any of the existing Apple product lines. I am quite impressed and intrigued with the Mac mini though. It's Apple's cheapest ever Macintosh at USD 499 (AUD 799). So much for the Macs-are-expensive argument. It's quite obviously made for the so-called Switchers market. As the iPod has drawn the world's collective eye to Apple, they are now enticing more Windows-based users of the iPod to the Mac platform. They tried to do that with the iMacs and eMacs, but problem is, all of Apple's entry-level computers before this were all-in-one machines with built-in monitors. While this might appeal to first-time buyers who just want everything in the box, existing Windows PC users who want a cheap way into the Mac platform didn't like that. The Mac mini is for these people.

Some long-time Mac users are critical of the Mac mini being underpowered and a backward step for Apple, doomed to be another failure like the G4 Cube. I think that won't be the case. The Mac mini has something going for it that the Cube didn't. Price. The cheapest Cube configuration when it was launched was USD 1799. It also had a slew of proprietary connectors for audio input and output, as well as an ADC connector for the display, thus forcing you to buy an Apple monitor, generally costing more than other brands using standard VGA or DVI plugs. Easily pushing up the cost of a complete system to about $3000.

One main criticism of the Mac mini by existing Mac users is that it's too basic. It doesn't even come with a keyboard and mouse! But it's not made for that market. It's aimed squarely at the Switchers. They'd already have a sizable investment in their Windows-based machine and they've had a good experience with their iPod and iTunes on Windows and are ready to give a Mac a go. They don't want an all-in-one eMac or iMac, and a Powermac G5 is just too big an investment for a machine just to play around with or as a second computer. Enter the Mac mini. At $500, it's almost a no-brainer. Granted it's specs aren't spectacular (but neither are $500 budget PCs), and it works with all your existing equipment. DVI or VGA displays, USB keyboard, mice, digital cameras, Firewire drives and video cameras and of course, the iPod. Optionally you could get an internal Airport card and Bluetooth transceiver. They'd very easily be able to hot swap their equipment or use a KVM to switch between the Mac and the PC, and when they are ready to make the jump, the other, more robust products in Apple's catalogue are available.

Granted, this might still be a very specific market they are aiming for, but one that has the potential to be huge. Already the iPod has about 65% of worldwide digital music player sales, and converting even a quarter of those into Mac sales would be huge for Apple's Macintosh market share. I suspect the Mac mini is going to help do just that.