Apple Closer to Getting it Right — Initial Thoughts on Apple’s New Mac Mini Announced Today

Mac Mini

Last October I wrote about the fact that Apple had released Front Row but that they had released it with the wrong PC, the iMac. The iMac is a computer that has a built in monitor that I did not think would be the choice of folks who wanted to consume digital media in their living room. While it might work well for a kid in a dorm, Apple left a lot on the table. Well this is quickly changing.

Today Apple announced their new version of the Mac Mini with their Front Row software which is claimed to be 2.5 to 3 times faster than their pervious version of the Mac Mini, runs on an Intel chip, and is somewhat cheap.

From CNET: “Jobs announced two models of the Mac Mini. One, for $599, has a 1.5-GHz Intel Core solo processor with a 60GB hard drive, combo drive that plays DVDs and burns CDs and 512MB of memory. The other, which goes for $799, has a 1.67-GHz Core Duo processor, an 80GB hard drive, 512MB of memory and a SuperDrive that burns CDs and DVDs. Both will be available starting today.

The new Mac Minis go from Fast Ethernet to Gigabit Ethernet and has double the number of USB ports, said Jobs, who stood before the audience wearing his trademark black mock turtleneck and jeans. The Mac Minis will also come with Apple’s Front Row software for watching movies, listening to music or viewing photos from across the room using a remote control. Consumers will also be able to view shared videos and photos.”

So what has Apple got right so far? They’ve got the name right(Front Row is so much better than Media Center Edition or Vista Home Premium). They’ve got the form down (the small Mac Mini looks great). They’ve got the music and pictures down (mp3s only for me of course, no iTunes DRM, wink, wink). It’s got a DVD player. What the product still needs though is TV (and real TV not low quality iTune video downloads) — which is why I say they are closer to getting it right.

Television still is the critical missing component that Apple needs to make this product a hit. The product needs both a PVR and especially a PVR that does HDTV. With your only options for TV being DVDs or low res quality video iTunes (which might look ok on a small handheld device but will look horrible on those 43″ plasmas that everyone’s buying), this product still lags behind Microsoft’s Media Center PC.

Of course, throw in an Apple buyout of TiVo and put a high definition TiVo in the box along with Front Row and you’d have the hit of the decade. How does that old song go? Oh yeah, “You’ve got the brains, I’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money.”

The comments on the announcement are flowing at Engadget.

JupiterMedia Analyst Michael Gartenberg adds the following: “Hey Thomas, keep on eye out here. This is going to be evolutionary with Apple not revolutionary at the moment. Think of all your issues with MCE and how it handles HiDef and CableCard. I suspect Apple understands these issues as well and is working on solving the problem one part at a time and delivering value as part of the process. Be interesting to see how both these platforms look a year from now. Be even more interesting in two.”

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8 comments on “Apple Closer to Getting it Right — Initial Thoughts on Apple’s New Mac Mini Announced Today
  1. Dave Zatz says:

    Adding digital audio out and updating Bonjour for video/music streaming definitely foreshadows what’s coming… but we ain’t there yet. 600 – 800 bucks for video streaming doesn’t cut it.

  2. I agree with Dave, the Bonjour/Rendezvous/ZeroConf stuff is cool. I don’t expect Apple to release a Mini with a built-in tuner any time soon. They don’t have a lot of differentiation in their product line, so if they added a TV tuner they would be adding it to, say, the entire Mini line. That would add a lot of cost, and since most people use their Minis as computers, not a lot of value.

    Instead I would expect them to announce a deal with Elgato to tie EyeTV into the “TV Shows” menu in Front Row (if it doesn’t already) and sell the Mini bundled with EyeTV. Or, they might start selling high def TV shows on the iTMS and skip the broadcast route altogether.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Video card is shared memory, that is going to cause all kinds of problems for HD output.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Mac + PVR = Cannabalize iTunes video sales. Duh. Ain’t no Apple PVR comin’ out anytime soon. They’re working on “compressed HD” video you can buy through ITMS, download over the US’s crappy version of “broadband” and playback on a hi-def, high storage video iPod that ain’t comin’ out until the pipes can handle the fat data.

  5. Aaron says:

    I’m just baffled that this made such headlines yesterday.

    Wake me up when this thing has a tuner, or better yet, multiple tuners. Because anyone who pays money to download shows that they can record for free is either rich, lazy or dumb.

  6. fluxt says:

    The anonymous comment above me pretty much covers it, I just want to take his thoughts a step further.

    The reason there is no TV tuner in the Mac Mini is the same reason the iPod doesn’t have an FM tuner – it’s simply anti-thetical to Jobs’ vision of an all-digital media world. Now, I may disagree with his a la carte pricing model for TV shows, but the point that DVRs are merely a stopgap measure is vital and true.

    PVRs digitize analog media. Jobs eventually wants to skip that step. He has nothing to gain by trying to work with a thousand different cable boxes and TV services, he has everything to gain by being first to market with an all-digital, end-to-end solution. He is playing for the end-game, and playing for keeps.

    Now if Apple could just convince content providers to move to a subscription model instead of this ridiculous price of $2/episode, I think we might get somewhere in the war against monopolistic cable operators.

  7. danny says:

    “Now if Apple could just convince content providers to move to a subscription model instead of this ridiculous price of $2/episode, I think we might get somewhere in the war against monopolistic cable operators.”

    Fluxt is right that Apple has nothing to gain from trying to put together comprehensive TV solutions. But it’s not just a technical/platform issue, but more, as implied above, that the value chain is reshuffling itself and there’s nothing to be gained by Apple over the longer term from pissing off content owners for short-term sales. iTunes music store and the like may make major record labels less relevant over the long term, but in the short term it has to offer them an opportunity. Ditto for video.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Curious … have you actually used Windows Media Center for a period of time to make a comparison, or are you just talking out your ass?