is apple obsoleting the mini?
Last week I was looking at computer configurations and it just seemed the iMacs were a little stale. It's all Rich's fault really because he got excited about StarCraft II and so I was poking around recommended specs and things like that. My MacBook is great, and I've really been laptop first ever since my iBook, but you do compromise on graphics and RAM especially with a low end laptop. Well, it turned out Apple thought the iMac line dated too, as they revamped the whole desktop Mac product line.
But the Mini revamp leaves me scratching my head. In an era where most of the 'major' leaps in PC computing power are behind us, it latches onto another selling point - its compact size. It also addresses the planned obsolescence problem: if you buy an all-in-one computer in the flat screen era, the monitor stays decent longer than the system, creating a fixed cost that lengthens the amount of time you're attached to the system (and the keyboard and mice issue affects most unattached systems, too). The Mini allows you to replace the whole system during the life of the monitor and peripherals, or even operate without a monitor. Unlike HP and Dell, Apple doesn't offer a low end tower system.
So this iteration of the iMac line seems like a really good value. The base level system with a 21.5 inch monitor is a 3 GHz Core i3 with 4GB RAM, 500 GB HDD, and Radeon 4670 graphics card for $1,200. If you like playing the instant rebate game, HP and Dell have exciting websites to navigate, although at the moment, it seems like Dell is mainly interested in pushing either the lower end Celeron and Pentium chips, or the i7. They don't seem to have much of the i3 variety yet to peruse.
At first glance, the new Mini is significantly cheaper at $700 vs $1200. But I think this vanishes astonishingly quickly when one looks at the difference. There's a lot of stuff the Mini doesn't have - a monitor, stereo speakers, webcam, microphone, wireless mouse and keyboard being the most obvious. We could approximate that at roughly $300, which is over half the gap right there. But worse, the Mini has noticeably inferior technical specs in its core system. It has a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, representing both much lower clock speed and an older generation of chips. It has a 320 GB HDD that is both smaller and slower. It has 2 GB RAM, which is both half as much as the iMac and also slower. It has an integrated video card instead of the discrete graphics in the iMac.
What's really funny is trying to configure the Mini to be more like the iMac. When you upgrade the specs to this:
you have a better system, but one that is still inferior to the iMac. Yet it costs just $12 less. Try buying a monitor from Apple for that.
I really like the concept of the Mini. But if Apple is going to create such extreme price/performance gaps, I wonder if they've decided it's not as cool a business strategy as it is a concept. I was thinking of getting a Mini as my next computer purchase. That has now been put on hold, and I'm not sure where to go next. If I were doing marketing for Apple, I'd suggest strongly that the price and product aspects be revisited - unless the purpose is to phase it out slowly, which I think this might do gracefully.
Here's what I'd like to see instead: three models, instead of two. You do the inexpensive one at $599, perhaps cutting back on the hard drive and the processor if that cuts too deeply into margins (for example, a 2 GHz C2 Duo and 160 GB HDD). Then you add a $799 model with, say, a 3 GHz core i3, 4GB RAM (1066 MHz), and discrete video card. This still lets the low end iMac be better with the faster RAM and a bigger and faster hard drive while rendering a value Mini at this price point. Then you keep the third Mini option at $999 which is the server version.
So the business gamble Apple presents is something like this. I might get a new iMac, which is a little bit more computer than I need in that I have a TV/monitor and keyboard/trackball currently. However, I might also not do anything at all this year. Essentially, Apple is jeopardizing $600 - 800 worth of sales, my future interest in the Mini line, and the likelihood of my next computer purchase being within the next three years (as I'd keep the iMac longer than the Mini), all in exchange to get me to pony up another $400 now. Or maybe it's just really expensive to cram this new stuff into the Mini, and Apple's marketing team is running into the problem that 'small form factor' and 'inexpensive consumer machine' are becoming more conflicting than complimentary.