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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

A new Mac mini: I want to believe

Phil Schiller introduces the most recent Mac mini in 2014.

It’s tough being the fan of the Mac mini. Objectively, it’s Apple’s least important Mac—the low-end, low-selling desktop in a world that’s three-quarters laptops. That it still exists is a miracle; that Apple only bothers updating it every three or four years isn’t really surprising.

But here we are, three years on from the most recent (and unsatisfying!) Mac mini update, and everyone’s concerned that the Mac mini might be a dead product walking.

Apple could survive without the Mac mini in its product line, but it would make a lot of Mac users sad. I’d argue that the Mac mini is great not because it fills a niche, but because it fills a thousand of them. That’s great for Mac users because if you need a Mac in a particular place (where a laptop would be inappropriate and an iMac won’t fit), it’ll do the job. And it’s great for Apple because the Mac mini can act as a release valve of a sort—it can do all the jobs for which other Macs with more focused designs simply aren’t suited.

There’s been a Mac mini running in my house for more than a decade now. (Not the same one—I’m now on my third, which I gave new life with an SSD upgrade.) It started as a web and email server, replacing a Power Mac G4 tower. Its role has changed over the years, so these days it’s primarily a file server with some weather station action on the side.

I’ve been hoping for a new Mac mini model, ideally an Apple TV-sized model similar to the Intel NUC design, for some time. The most recent Mac mini was designed in an era where spinning disks were required, but a new design could leave that behind (just as the previous model ditched the need for an optical disc drive). Intel’s NUCs are the right size and yet they’re full-fledged, powerful PCs. A Mac mini based on that design would certainly fulfill the original idea of the Mac mini as a relatively low-cost, small, use-anywhere Mac.

My hopes were given a shot in the arm last week when Tim Cook wrote an email to a MacRumors reader asking after the fate of the Mac mini. Here’s what Cook said:

I’m glad you love Mac mini. We love it too. Our customers have found so many creative and interesting uses for Mac mini. While it is not time to share any details, we do plan for Mac mini to be an important part of our product line going forward.

Probably the worst part of Apple Kremlinology is plumbing the outboxes of Apple executives for clues. But here we are. “Going forward” suggests the Mac mini has a future beyond Phil Schiller’s statement earlier this year that it “remains a product in our lineup.” It could just mean that the Mac mini will be sold forever in its current, 2014 vintage, but I doubt that.

Schiller used the same word as Cook to describe the Mac mini’s place in the Mac lineup—“important”—so I’m not sure whether we can ascribe any meaning to that word. Most encouraging is the forward-looking nature of Cook’s remarks—not just “going forward” but the statement that “it is not time to share any details.” The strong implication there is that Apple doesn’t comment about unannounced products, and therefore Cook can’t talk about the new Mac mini that is coming sometime in 2018.

I can see how those who are pessimistic about Apple’s current and future stewardship of the Mac platform would choose to believe that this statement provides no information about the company’s plans. But I’m not one of them. I think there will be a new Mac mini and I hope that when we finally see it, it’s the smallest one yet.

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