What use is Apple’s Mac mini, anyway?

Not updated for years, underpowered and expensive when compared to any iOS device, what use is Apple’s Mac mini?

Apple, Mac, OS X, macOS, Mac mini, iPad

A Mac for under $500 is still a really attractive choice for many in the market for a new computer, and Apple certainly sells lots of these to people who don’t want the best Mac but still want a Mac.

But they’re doing it wrong

The Mac mini isn’t really so cheap. You need a keyboard. You need a display. You need a mouse. And while you may have all these things somewhere in your home, the cold reality is that the existing model is completely outclassed by the entry-level iPad in performance terms.

Though Mac mini still has some use as a Mac server, or as a gateway Mac drug for PC switchers, when it comes to more intensive work you’ll inevitably choose a higher-end Mac or an iOS device. (The latter being fast, responsive, portable, and capable of handling modern multimedia standards and useful for a fast-growing range of productivity tasks.)

In use, the fact is that Apple’s most affordable Mac betrays how little the company cares for value-conscious customers — even though the little device helped it grab a nice chunk of PC market share when it was originally introduced. It was a Mac designed to exploit the huge interest in Apple’s products generated by the hugely successful iPod, a Mac for PC switchers.

Apple doesn’t care

Like any person, you don’t judge a company by its words, but by its actions. Apple’s whole business plan is built around a high-value, high-technology proposition. It doesn’t want to sell the most (though it often does), but it does want to sell the best — and likes to shove a healthy 30 percent-plus margin on every single one of the unique products it does sell.

This means the company really isn’t focused on utilitarianism, but on meeting (and creating) more aspirational needs. It wants to make products that “improve the world,” sure, but it also wants to make sure it’s making oodles of profit for its shareholders while it does. Why else has it decided to return such a huge chunk of its contentiously taxed foreign earnings to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and dividends?

Could it not have used some of this gigantic cash hoard in some more positive for the planet way, such as the creation of an Apple-funded cancer research facility, low-cost housing for the people of San Francisco, or even more research into renewable energy and climate change? Or perhaps just given the workers at the low-end of its supply chain (the ones who actually make its profitable products) a life-changing bonus?

The fact that it didn’t do any of those things says that if a product pays peanuts, Apple isn’t interested. Ultimately, one dollar in every 20 it raises in profit is now owned by Warren Buffett. Do you think he cares about the Mac mini?

It doesn’t matter

Mac mini is irrelevant. What does it do well? Nothing, other than some use as a server. Most every other task you might once have invested in Apple’s smallest Mac to achieve can now be transacted on your phone, tablet, or even watch (particularly as a media server). What’s the point of it? How can Apple improve it? What do people want from it?

I’ll tell you how I’d like it to be improved: Stick it on a USB stick you can pop into the back of a TV or monitor and control with a wireless mouse/keyboard. Make it mini not just in name, but also in nature.

Integrate it with Wi-Fi and iCloud so it doesn’t really need too much in the way of on-board storage. You won’t be using this thing for Photoshop, Final Cut, or Wolfenstein, but for word processing, web browsing, email, and all the other lower-end tasks you might need. Give it a Thunderbolt cable for peripheral devices, external drives, and the like.

Knock the thing out at a cut-price $299, and sell it as the perfect companion for iPhone and iPad users who want a Mac at home but don’t need to use one very often— as a backup computer.

Enjoy the Mac market share spike that will inevitably result.

Celebrate the fact that most of these things will be kept in a draw and only used infrequently. Or just delete the product entirely, and tell people to get an iPad.

Euphemistically yours

Only last year, Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller said Mac mini was still an “important product.”

Later, in October 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised that the company has a plan for Mac mini to be an “important part of our product line-up going forward.”

At that time, Apple’s execs sought to dampen the controversy that then existed around Apple’s commitment to the Mac platform.

With that storyline now pretty much managed, the iMac Pro in the here and now and a Mac Pro promise next year, will Apple now improve Mac mini or quietly put the product out of its misery?

Important is an adjective, not a noun — and all Apple products are important until the company decides to delete them. Even the iPod HiFi enjoyed the Californian sunshine once upon a time.

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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