On the Mac for Switchers

Following Apple’s recent summit with journalists on the future of the Mac Pro line, Macworld contributor and podcaster Dan Moren wrote a great piece on the versatility of the Mac mini (the company’s cheapest desktop computer). This device has always been a bit of an oddball in the line-up — originally intended as a low-price option to entice Windows PC switchers to the Mac ecosystem.

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Mac mini (2014)

The conundrum for Apple has always been that Windows users may be reluctant to spend their savings an expensive, all-in-one Mac. The mini, which has always been sold without a screen, keyboard or mouse, was designed to fit in with people’s existing desk set-ups. Over time, the mini has been used in a number of ways by different types of user. Sure, switchers have taken advantage of the machine, but it has also become a favourite of certain Mac enthusiasts as a TV-connected media player or even in professional server situations.

In 2014 (when the mini was last updated), it lost its faster, quad-core option and the ability to upgrade RAM in the base of the machine was also removed. Many were upset about these changes, which is understandable due to the product’s changing meaning and use cases since its introduction in 2005. Also, like the 2013 ‘trash can’ Mac Pro, it has been neglected for some time, leaving users doubtful about its future in the Apple product line.

I bought the 2014 Mac mini as a refurbished machine in 2015, and have been thrilled with it ever since. With a 1 TB Fusion Drive option, I have plenty of space for my content, whilst still enjoying great speed across a variety of more basic and demanding apps with the SSD section on the drive. Boot-up is quick and I rarely see apps bouncing in my dock upon launch. Of course, quad-core processors and the ability to increase the RAM even more would be great, but it in no way restricts my personal use.

As far as the future of this product goes (other than discontinuation, which I hope will not be the case), I think there are two ways that Apple could deal with it. First, Apple could bump up the processors and retain the same case design. Whilst a tad large for ‘mini’ for 2017, this could help to keep the price down. Faster processors and an upgrade to two or three USB-C ports (like Dan Moren suggested), would make it more relevant in an industry that is moving to the new standard. A low price with some new components would make this a much more appealing product for price-conscious switchers or even those who want to use it as a media centre in their lounge rooms.

Second, and also more salivating of an idea, would be Apple redefining ‘mini’ for this desktop product. With more people using their mobile devices like iPhones and iPads as primary computers, Apple could spark new interest in the desktop space with a significantly smaller, SSD-based Mac. At a fraction of the size and with cooler operation, Apple could make a pocket-sized Mac that can be picked up easily and transported between different desk set-ups.

I don’t think this second option is necessarily likely, but it’s good fun to think about how Apple will move forwards in the desktop space, particularly with its break from conventional secrecy with its Mac Pro plans. Pros don’t only use the Mac Pro or upgraded iMacs; they also use devices like the Mac mini for servers, media players or perhaps even as computers for their kids. Showing a greater interest in the versatility and design of this machine would be further evidence of Apple’s commitment to desktop users, increasing options for those new to and experienced in the Apple ecosystem. As a long-time Mac enthusiast who loves his mini, I’m very keen to see what the future holds for the desktop in a world of mobile devices.

Image credit: Apple (2014)

‘Jery Get Macintosh’

Now, this image speaks to me. It brings back a lot of happy ‘Seinfeld’ viewing memories and Mac associations. 😁

Long before @Seinfeld2000 started posing ‘modarn’ Seinfeld situations and hilariously speculating on Twitter as to whether ‘Jery get iPhone?’ or ‘Jery get iPad?’, Jerry Seinfeld actually went through several Macintosh desktops throughout the duration of the classic series. As a young Seinfeldian and Mac zealot, I took notice of his high-tech desk (for the time) in the background of just about every shot of his New York City apartment.

I stumbled across this great picture mash-up over at pcmag.com, and it shows Jerry’s Macintosh SE (1987) in the early seasons, all the way up to the infamous/rare/early-Jony-Ive-special 20th Anniversary Macintosh (1997) towards the end of the show. He had good taste and this is an early example of Apple’s effective product placement (often unpaid) throughout TV and film history.

If you’ve never watched the show, you should really check it out. It has certainly played a big part in my life, as I watched re-runs very night as a kid and recited quotes endlessly. It even led me to my beautiful partner, Natasha, who also loves the show.

Whilst we may now laugh at the 1990s, a time without iPhones and social media, but instead full of puffier hair and clunky desktops, the comedic situations are still as hilarious and relevant as ever.

Courage

The year 2016 was a very interesting one for Apple, with its fair share of praise and controversy. Mostly, it seems that the company attracted negative attention for issues such as delayed product delivery, a failure to upgrade desktop Macs and the release of the apparently no-longer-pro MacBook Pro. The Mac is probably the biggest sore spot at this point in time.

Whilst I agree that it wasn’t Apple’s best year, I do think that as usual, Apple unjustifiably copped far more of a beating than many of its competitors, even with impressive product innovation and comparatively stellar sales. Consider the amazing design and engineering work involved in the AirPods, Touch Bar and wheelchair-focused fitness functions in watchOS 3, for example. In addition, Apple pushed its services even further, with a revamped Apple Music interface, differential privacy and the biggest release of iOS yet, opening up even more opportunities to developers in the form of iMessage apps.

Perhaps one of the most discussed topics of Apple’s business in 2016 was the decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. Heated discussion developed online following the iPhone keynote, where Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller stated that in making such a decision, Apple had shown ‘courage’. Schiller was mocked immediately for saying this, but I believe this to be the case. Like the removal of floppy disk and optical drives, Apple made a decision to drive a more wireless future.

In the Tim Cook era at Apple, I believe we now also see a reversal of the once-famous Jobsian ‘reality distortion field’. Whilst Jobs once apparently distorted reality around product launches, tech journalists now distort reality, praising companies such as Google and Microsoft for announcing products that either never get released, or that sell only a fraction of what Apple achieves. Remember when Microsoft’s bot turned into a Nazi online? Yep, people forgot about that. Remember when Google copied the external design of the iPhone 6 with its Pixel, leaving behind the not-so-successful Nexus line? Yep, people didn’t really care about that either.

The topic of courage and Apple’s different way of doing things was brought to my mind again after finding an excerpt from one of Jobs’s appearances at the D Conference, from back in 2010. In this excerpt, from the 2 min 15 sec mark, Jobs elaborates on what Apple believes it takes to make a successful, effective product. It involves making compromises and saying “No” to things that may seem crazy to exclude. Check it out below.

Apple has always made controversial decisions, and even the most devoted loyalists seem to forget this. Is the Mac being forgotten? No, of course not. The focus is instead on iOS, where the most consumer appeal and sales are happening. Entirely new input technologies like the Touch Bar do not occur in product categories that are being phased out. Likewise, whilst Apple is apparently exiting the display and router (AirPort) business, this is most likely another example of sharpening the company’s product focus. Remember when Apple used to make digital cameras, printers and even a gaming console? All of those products were given the chop, and when Jobs returned in 1997, he reduced the entire company’s product line to the famous consumer-pro matrix. In recent years, Apple has proudly stated that it is the company whose products all fit onto a single table.

What Jobs said in the video above remains true today. Indeed, the company can always listen to its customers more, and it should not ignore the interests of the pros and loyalists who kept it going in its darkest times. I do think, however, that more exciting things are still on the horizon. Apple continues to show courage in its design decisions, and is never afraid to do what may be unpopular for success in the long run.