It will be extremely interesting to see how the Mac mini will fare in the marketplace. Ever since Steve Jobs announced the latest addition to the Macintosh family, speculation has been rampant among analysts and pundits of every ilk as to the impact of the low-cost Mac.
Many rightly point out that given the market share of the Macintosh platform, even doubling the number of Macs sold would hardly dent the Windows predominance.
But before jumping to conclusions, lets see what the new Mac mini is not to better understand the strategies behind it. First of all, the new Mac is not what most rumors predicted: a pizza-box, cut-down version of the Macintosh, as an entry-level Macintosh to compete with entry-level PCs.
In fact, the Mac mini does not even look like a computer. In terms of design, it is certainly stylish, somewhere midway between the latest iMac and the iPod mini. But if it werent for the CD slot, one would be hard-pressed to guess the nature of the gray and white box.
And as far as the Macintosh lineup goes, the Mac mini is very close to Apples high-end PowerBooks. Not the speed of a G5, but certainly not a Macintosh on the cheap.
As far as potential market share is concerned, the comparison of the Mac mini with low-end Windows PCs is both interesting and flawed. Steve Jobs is not attacking the Windows market per se. The way the new Mac is styled (and will presumably be marketed), it will stay safely out of the low-cost PC arena. Instead, Jobs is going after the Achilles heel of Windows dominance: the living room.
It is certainly no coincidence that the Mac mini is being launched after an end-of-year buying season where Microsofts main asset for entering the living room, the Media Center PC, fared disappointingly.
Rather than aiming to enter a crowded market, Apple is trying to find a niche and grow it. The iPod has shown that this strategy can yield truly impressive results.
With the iPod, Apple has shown that it is capable of developing and capturing a significant market. With the Mac mini, the company is trying to create a domino effect. At a price point that is identical to higher-end iPod models, many iPod customers might be interested in the Mac mini not as a personal computer but as an extension of the iPod.
It will be extremely interesting to see how Apple will pitch the Mac mini when the machine becomes available. The combination of iPod and Mac mini could be the basis of a perfect Trojan horse strategy.
And even if the Macintosh is in no position to pose a threat to Windows in terms of overall market share, a successful move of the Mac mini into the consumer end of computing would represent a serious blow to Microsoft.
There is another area where the Mac mini could make a killing, and that is in the publishing world. In many publishing companies around the world, the Macintosh is slowly losing ground, not because production work is moved to Windows but because Apple has not had a serious low-end computer in many years.
(Most IT departments in larger companies avoid all-in-one machines such as the iMac because they are more difficult to manage and support than computers where the CPU and display are separate.)
In its time, the Macintosh LC was extremely popular in publishing houses, because it was a perfect cheap computer for copy editors and writers. The Mac mini would perfectly fill that spot.
Time will tell how these different themes play out. But it seems clear today that the Mac mini is more than simply a cheaper version of the Macintosh.