Apple Mini

Apple MiniApple has always serviced the market of people who don’t mind paying more for essentially the same thing. After all, a beautifully designed mansion does the same job as a cheaper, factory-produced house of comparable size; it’s just that we like to have things that are beautiful — despite what virulent Mac devotees tell you, you can get the same power in a PC for less money, but few Apple users would want to be stuck with Windows’ ugly interface or spend half their time fending off viruses.

Apple pulled the most brilliant strategy of recent times in capturing the mass market with a prestige products. Almost every MP3 player on the market is cheaper than the iPod, but which brand name, shape and style have become already synonymous with digital music?

The Mac Mini is another attempt in the same marketing direction, albeit in a different shape. Instead of a prestige product, the Mac Mini is an attempt to directly target comparably powered PC users who want to make the leap. Like the typical house builder, there’s no fancy extras, just the small, sleek aluminium case — no keyboard, monitor, speakers or mouse.

Ironically enough, it’s designed for those the iPod won over, the home user who subscribes to Steve Jobs’ grand unified theory of digital content. It’s somewhere to surf the web, organise your digital photos, video and music. As such, it comes with iLife 05, Apple’s all-inclusive digital content hub that lets you mix, match, manipulate and share with iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, iDVD and GarageBand.

One anomaly though; for a machine constructed to manage digital sound, the single speaker is nowhere near up to the task, and your first purchase will be a set of decent speakers. That’s unless of course you already have them — along with a monitor, keyboard etc. Apple are obviously counting on enough people being in that position, and a look around most home and office workplaces confirm their hopes.

The specifications are pretty narrow; it comes in a 1.25 and a 1.42GHz model, with either a 40 or 80Gb hard drive. You can add all sorts of extras like Airport Extreme and Bluetooth, but expandability isn’t a selling point so depending on what you’re used to, it’s not very future proof. In fact, if you’re moving to it from anything but an older G4 chip, it’ll be a frustrating exercise.

Because it’s mini in nature as well as name, and even most late model PCs outstrip it for performance. Anything but the lightest load on the RAM causes those delays switching between applications that don’t last more than a few seconds but add up to a very frustrating day.

However, like everything else Apple makes, it’s cool, it’s streamlined and it’s pretty. Taking up the size of a short pile of CD cases, the outside surface is a stylish aluminium with no adornments at all except for the plastic plate on top sporting the famous logo, the optical drive slot on the front and the ports and sockets neatly arranged on the back below a single vent. There’s almost no fan noise and even after running for several days the temperature of the body didn’t change.

It’s a great machine, it just has a strongly defined market. If you fall outside that you could be disappointed. If you’re the music-mixing, MP3-playing, mobile phone camera snap-sharing teen (and have no aspirations along the lines of print design or movie editing) Apple are trying to attract with the Mac Mini, it might be the purchase of the year.