Apple continues it's recent trend of making announcements every few weeks, even if some of those announcements seem to be made with a whisper while others are made with a bull horn. On the day that the iPhone 4 went on pre-sale, the latest version of Apple entry level desktop got a serious refresh with the unibody touch. The entire blogospher was taken by surprise by the apparent lack of any real marketing by Apple. It's release was made public only by updating the Apple website and a press release; yet if you visit the Apple web site, you will find that they seem to think this is a VERY BIG DEAL.
Apple calls this new Mac Mini "The world's most energy efficient desktop computer." While that claim is yet to be verified, it's not hard to say that it is most assuredly one of the smallest desktop computers out today and probably the most powerful in such a small package. It weighs only 3 pounds, stands 1.5 inches high and less than 8 inches wide and deep. That's a small computer. We all know though, it's not the size that matters but what's on the inside.
From the specs, this New Mac Mini is no powerhouse, but she's no slouch either. It's when you look at these specs that you will start to ask yourself a very serious question, is this a Media Center device or a desktop computer? The answer won't be easy to determine. As a media center device, it's fully twice as expensive as the Apple TV. As a desktop computer it's starting price is $100 more than the last Mac Mini, and $200 more than the original Mac Mini. The next step up from the Mac Mini is a MacBook at $999 or an iMac at $1,199. So while it is the lowest cost Mac, it's the only Mac to keep going up in price. The Unibody MacMini seems to be a Mac in crisis. Or is it?
The Apple Professor thinks Apple knows exactly what it is doing. The Mac Mini is still the lowest cost Mac, $500 cheaper than lowest cost iMac. Yes the Mac Mini doesn't come with a monitor, but a good 20" monitor can be hand for a lot less than $500. That's not what you will connect this little Mac though. While there were more than a few changes to the Mac Mini, the biggest one was the addition of a fully compliant HDMI port that supports both video and sound. What's that mean? It means that this Mac Mini could be the perfect Media Center Computer. All you have to do is hook it up to your 1080p TV, get a wireless keyboard and you are off to the races. You can watch your iTunes HD content on your TV and then switch to reading the news or watching HD YouTube content or NetFlix content. An iMac is a wonderful computer, but not such a great TV. The Apple TV is great at what it does, but what it does is extremely limited.
Does this mean that The Apple Professor is going to run out and by a New Mac Mini? Well, hold on to your computer cables my friends, there are still a few issues. First, $700 is still a steep price even as part of a media center. If it had Blueray built-in then it would change the dynamics, but that's another downside, no Blueray. HDMI ports are in limited supply for most of us, so having to add another into the mix might mean that when you want to use the Mini you have to first disconnect your PS3, XBox or Blueray player first. Let me be the first to say, The Apple Professor is WAY TO LAZY for that kind of silliness.
Apple - Add a Blueray player and maybe an Apple TV mode that turns it more into a Media Center than a computer when you want to use it as a Media Center. Front Row is nice, but it's by no means great since it doesn't talk to NetFlix, Hulu or any of the many other streaming audio and video services available today. It's that Apple or offer up your own streaming service, that's either free or inexpensive.
I've not yet even seen the new Mac Mini. It is very pretty and very small. I think it will find a market, but I don't think it will be as big an item as it could have been were just a few more things added. For me right now, given the choice of spending $600 on a Mac Mini or $600 on an iPad, I would go with the iPad; but then I do have 6 Macs in my house now; a Mac Mini would be serious overkill.