Until January 2005, 'low cost' and 'Macintosh' were words with less association than 'Pop Idol' and 'talent'. In fact, according to Steve Jobs, if he’d received a nickel for every person that had asked him why Apple didn’t offer a stripped down Mac that was more affordable, he’d be a rich man. Now that may not be saying much, as he’s undoubtedly a rich man anyway, but it was certainly a good question and one that the company finally responded to at Macworld this year.
The Mac mini is a master stroke by Apple – it's essentially a headless iMac, supplied without a monitor, keyboard or mouse, enabling users to get on the Mac ladder for less money than ever before, by reusing their existing peripherals.
The Mac mini is the Apple computer aimed at ‘Switcher Man’. This is the Windows user who’s already been turned on to the way Apple does things by the iPod, and is now intrigued by what else it can offer. Previously though, Apple’s high pricing was something of a cold shower for the potential switcher, but when the response to the question, “so how much does it cost?” is a mere £339, Switcher Man is, perhaps for the first time, seriously tempted.
However, when you actually see the Mac mini it’s not the price you get excited about, but the size. It’s breath takingly small, packing an entire computer into a box not much bigger than a desktop PCs internal DVD-ROM drive. It weighs 1.4Kg, no more than a typical sub-notebook. When Jobs actually brought it out and held it the palm of his hand at Macworld, the whoops of delight and surprise were as genuine as they were sycophantic. Of course we’ve seen really small PCs before but compared to the mini these look very, well, depressingly PC like.
Another demonstration of the desirability of the product was when I brought the review sample into the office for the first time. Everyone wanted to look at it, pick it up and take it home. This included a visitor we had in that day who happened to work for nVidia. When it was pointed out that the mini was powered by ATI graphics he declared, “I don’t care. I want one!” He shall, of course, remain nameless.