It came up in the discussion of this previous post that the new Intel Mac mini is not exactly perfect as a personal video recording device (PVR). It lacks any “Just Works” PVR software, and doesn’t sport enough hard disk space to store much video.
Given the muted response to yesterday’s announcements, perhaps the most interesting news from the event is actually the new features in Front Row. Now it supports shared media from other Macs on the network via Bonjour, it doesn’t matter where your video, music and other files are. As long as they’re shared, the mini plugged into your TV can find them and display them.
Here’s my theory: that PVR software you’re missing? It’s Front Row. Or at least, that’s what Front Row is evolving towards.
The Mac mini as it stands is not suitable for use as a PVR replacement. But Front Row can evolve to become the software, and something else - either a version of the mini, or an entirely separate product - will emerge as the hardware. “Mac media”, perhaps? It would need acres of hard disk to seriously compete with existing PVR machines. But it doesn’t need to be a computer like the mini is; it needs the space and the graphics power. The mini (or any other computer) can do the processing.
It may be that the Mac mini as it stands is not supposed to be the PVR machine, it never has been. It’s just a stepping stone, something to which PVR functionality can be bootstrapped in future.
Look at the all-in-one smoothness of the iPod HiFi (even if you think it’s ugly). If Apple plans to make a TV box for the living room, it will surely be designed in the same way: with mass consumer appeal.
One thing that seems to have annoyed a lot of people is the decision to switch to integrated graphics: an Intel GMA950 chipset that shares the main memory. In other words, your default 512MB of RAM is reduced, because some of that RAM will be used up for graphics processing.
On the plus side, the new mini design has room for two RAM slots, and supports up to 2GB RAM. I suspect for most users, especially those who take up the option to max out the RAM when they buy, the integrated graphics won’t be a very noticeable issue. Remember that Apple is more interested in selling to the people who don’t already own a Mac than it is to people who do. There are many, many more of the former, and most of them don’t care what handles the graphics on their computer. They just want the shiny box that does cool stuff. If you’re the kind of person who does care about graphics processing, Apple thinks you should buy a different computer, one that comes higher up the product line.
Again, this is about making stuff that has mass consumer appeal. Apple is slowly morphing from a computer company into a consumer electronics & media company. While those of us who love its computers will continue to buy them, Apple wants to sell much more stuff to a lot more people, and the way to do that is by making very cool, low-cost machines that appeal to a wide range of people.
In other words, Apple’s cheaper products are dumbing down for the mass market; the integrated graphics in the new mini is an example of this. With that in mind, what should we expect from the Intel iBooks, or MacBooks, or whatever they will be called? A similar strategy, I suspect.
People who have complained about the $100 price hike have been accused of excessive whining, but I’m inclined to think they have a fair point. The previous entry price of $499 was not only great value, but it was psychologically a good choice. People’s eyes see “499″ and think in terms of 400s, not 500. What’s more, $500 (and here in the UK, about £300) is a typical price ‘boundary’ for electronics, a point below which people might open their wallets almost on impulse. Go above 500, and they stop to think a little more.
Personally, I’d say $599 still represents good value for the machine you’re getting, but it goes over that crucial $500 boundary it suddenly doesn’t seem as good a deal as it used to be.
Saying that, I have a feeling that when the time comes for me to buy an Intel Mac, it’s probably going to be a Mac mini.