Most evidence suggests that birds, as unlikely as they may be, are the only surviving descendants of dinosaurs. I would argue that Mac has its own analogy to this unlikely relationship, a famous father of death who eventually inspired an ordinary, almost boring descendant who is with us to this day.
Because it’s hard not to look at the Mac mini and consider it the rightful heir to the famous, beloved bug that was the Power Mac G4 Cube.
Less than five years after the cube left the stage, Steve Jobs took a new step in creating a Mac that defied the narrow definitions of the PC industry. Mac mini fits 85 cubic centimeters, 6.5 inches square and two inches high ̵
However, Apple’s hardware designers learned their lesson – the Mac mini does not float in a clear, easy-to-crack outer shell. It was just a solid chunk of packed computer. Like the iPod, the Mac mini was a product designed to fit in as small a space as possible. (Limited, of course, by the physical size of the CD / DVD drive.)
If you opened a Mac mini and looked inward, you can admire the internal design. I must have opened one at least 50 times, either to upgrade hardware or take pictures. (Issues of March and April 2005 Macworld both have several pictures of a Mac mini I opened using the official method of putting a putty in the lower edges of the case until all the clamps gave way and let the top cover slide off.)
With a small RAM configuration of 256 MB, many ended up buying third-party RAM, finding or buying a putty knife and doing their own memory upgrades. The rest of the Mac mini was harder to take apart, as it was a series of layers of intertwined ribbon cables and interconnect boards. If you were not careful, you could not reconnect the Bluetooth or Wi-Fi antenna and had to get the putty knife out again.
Not only was the Mac mini smaller than the G4 Cube, but it was also cheaper. The cube’s original base price was $ 1,799, and people complained that it was overpriced for what it offered in terms of specifications and performance. The Mac mini, on the other hand, was offered for a groundbreaking price: $ 499.
Of course, in true Apple fashion, just that started to $ 499. If you wanted a decent amount of RAM, there was an upgrade of $ 75 or $ 425. A larger hard drive was $ 50 extra. Not even Bluetooth ($ 50) and Wi-Fi ($ 79) were standard. A DVD-writing SuperDrive was $ 100. As Macworld’s story put it at the time, “Throw in some of these upgrades, and a $ 499 computer can become a $ 1203 computer very quickly.”
And Apple’s sights were not on the Mac market. Steve Jobs made it clear that this was also a game to appeal to PC users. Keep in mind that this was the pinnacle of iPod’s dominance – the Mac mini was introduced on the same Macworld Expo headline as the original iPod Shuffle – and Apple’s retailers saw an increase in PC users. Apple wanted to sell Macs to as many of these PC users as possible.
The original concept was that Apple might not be able to convince potential Mac buyers to go out with an iMac or laptop … but what about a $ 499 Mac that could work with their existing PC keyboard, mouse and monitor? That’s one of the reasons why Steve Jobs sold the Mac mini with “Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse” as a feature. Apple really expected PC users to switch to a Mac by disconnecting Dell and throwing a Mac mini in place. Apple even included a DVI-to-VGA adapter in the box, so you could quickly connect it to a standard PC monitor.
I’m sure some PC buyers did, but it turned out most did not. IMac, iBook and PowerBook were more appealing systems. I think most PC users in the market for a new computer were happy to get rid of their old PC, monitor, keyboard and mouse included, and replace it with something better.
While the Mac mini never became the ultimate vehicle for PC switches, Mac users immediately recognized the appeal of a small, inexpensive Mac. My editorial staff in Macworld that month specifically mentioned that I was planning to use a Mac mini as a replacement for a Power Mac server, and I’m here to report that I’ve had a Mac mini running as a server in my house ever since.
Fifteen years later, the Mac mini is still with us. Over the years, it has become flatter, wider and more expensive. Today’s Mac mini starts at $ 799 (the price of $ 499, which only lasted a year, would be about $ 650 in today’s dollars) – and people are still getting rid of the basic specs and complaining that you can specify it to a much more expensive configuration. Some things never change.
But the Mac mini-soldiers on. It has not been a priority at Apple for more than a decade, but it has enough dedicated users and unique uses that Apple has not been able to stop. I hope it never does.
I’ll be back next week with number 13.
If you appreciate articles like this, you can support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories and a special community.