By Stephen Hackett
July 31, 2017 3:47 PM PT
The Hackett File: The case for the Mac mini
When it was introduced at Macworld 2005, Steve Jobs pitched the Mac mini as the easiest way to switch to Mac OS X. It was the BYODKM Mac — bring your display, keyboard and mouse. A PC user could unhook their Dell or HP or whatever, drop in a Mac mini and be off to the races. The incredibly low price of $499 just sweetened the deal for would-be switchers.
Over the years, the Mac mini became more than just the budget Mac for new users. Higher-end models became more powerful and more expensive, creating a real fanbase for the little computer.
Mac mini enthusiasts were soon hooking the machines up to televisions, using them as in-car entertainment systems and even running them as servers, something that Apple recognized and blessed with separate “Server” SKUs that often came with more storage and a copy of OS X sever. Heck, there are companies that colocate Mac minis in data centers now.
I’m sure it has never sold as well as the iMac, but I think the mini holds an important place in Apple’s desktop line. Before its current crisis, the Mac mini was enjoyed by a wide range of users. People looking for a simple, small desktop buy them, as do the super nerdy. Very few products enjoy such range.
I have to admit, it’s weird to write about the Mac mini in the present tense. I often think about it in the past tense, and I fear Apple does as well.
As Andrew Orr recently pointed out, it has been over 1,000 days since Apple updated the Mac mini. Considering that the 2014 update removed the ability to upgrade the machine’s RAM and got rid of the quad-core models, that last update wasn’t all that great. Many people — including me — have 2011 and 2012 Mac minis still running strong here in 2017.
Is the Mac mini dead? When asked about it earlier this year, Phil Schiller said, “On that I’ll say the Mac Mini is an important product in our lineup and we weren’t bringing it up because it’s more of a mix of consumer with some pro use. The Mac Mini remains a product in our lineup, but nothing more to say about it today.”
WWDC came and went, and the Mac mini is still for sale. It’s not dead yet, and I think there are several good reasons the Mac mini should receive updates again.
Lure switchers: The original sales pitch for the Mac mini is still a good one. The entry-level models may not be the best Macs on the market, but they can hit a price point nothing else can. Consumers looking to switch to the Mac may be hesitant to buy an $1,099 iMac. $499 for a Mac mini looks a lot more appeasing.
Appease enthusiasts: For those of us who use the Mac mini in our entertainment centers or in our server closets, nothing else can meet the requirements this little computer can. I can’t stuff an iMac under my TV, and a Mac Pro is way too much computer for what I need to host at MacStadium. With the arrival of Thunderbolt 3 and eGPU support in macOS High Sierra, a well-specced Mac mini — complete with a quad-core processor and an SSD — could be a pretty good little development or gaming computer.
Love the Mac: Apple executives keep repeating their dedication and love for the Mac. The iMac Pro and future Mac Pro have certainly helped calm fears held by the Mac faithful. The Mac mini is the last low-hanging fruit when it comes to Mac hardware. It will never sell as well as the iMac or enjoy the power and expandability of the Mac Pro, but having any computer this old for sale is just … demoralizing.
I still believe in the Mac mini; I just want Apple to find its faith again.
[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]