Thursday, January 13, 2005

At least it's not called iMini

After all the mayhem yesterday, I didn't have a chance to watch Steve Jobs' traditional dog-n-pony-show keynote at MacWorld S.F.

Aside from the preview of OS X/Tiger and iLife apps, the highlight of the show is new hardware. This time, the toys were (theoretically) pitched downstream of the typical Apple/Mac devotee. The Shuffle lives below the iPod on the food chain, and the Mac Mini sets a new lowest common denominator for Mac hardware.

Or does it? We're told that this cheapie is pitched at winning converts, appealing to 4.5 million new iPodders who are now predisposed to reconsider the Apple brand on their desktops. These users presumably need the low price point, so that the barrier to considering a switch is reduced. They usually also have cheap I/O devices and monitors, so that'll work. Or it won't, and it still might not matter.

If you need more memory, a display, a superdrive and keyboard/mouse, you'll probably be better off buying an iMac. This isn't so much a cheaper Mac as it is a bare bones Mac.

Lo, this is a machine that calls out just as well to long-time Apple geeks, because it just begs to be bought in multiples. Want a dedicated iTunes/Airport Express server or media server for your home? Slap VNC on this little buddy and you have a customizable, headless server appliance. (My brother is already on this.)

How about uses in education? With the monitor de-coupled, this might play to the parallel processing crowd for small clusters. (Big ones still want the rack-mountable Xserves.) Swarthmore colleague Doug Willen suggested that this might be useful for deployment on (or in)teaching podia, where space is at a premium. Just on form factor alone, this is worth considering anywhere you want to hide your hardware. I can also see this as a great standby/loaner machine to fill in for us to have for faculty who need to get work done immediately despite a system in crisis. At this price it might even make sense for lab deployment. For $1500 round-trip, you should be able to buy a Mini with a new monitor and keyboard/mouse, then upgrade the CPU in two years, keeping the other parts for four.

Me, I still hope my sweetheart someday blesses a laptop purchase, but given the right alignment of events, like already having a lot of the extras laying around, I could imagine one of these would do the trick.

For now, my buying advice is to wait to buy one if you're interested. In a few months, Tiger will be shipping, and the upgrade probably will not be free.

Gizmodo has a great rundown of the reactions to Mac Mini collected from a variety of press sources.

As for the Shuffle, this is going to cause a price-war with the other low-end players. Without an LCD display, that's going to keep the pressure on Apple to keep on comparing well with some established players. I'm not sure whether that's sustainable, but the whole iPod phenomenon isn't about price alone. My brother wants to get the meme started to nickname the Shuffle the gumPod. I think toyPod or blindPod might draw attention to the more salient features of the device. No, wait, I've got it...iPiddle?


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