January 12, 2005

Mac Mini: Less is more

Apple Mac Mini image (c) apple computer
Yesterday’s Mini is an impressive offering. $499 for tiny mac that runs OS X. Additional Wifi, Bluetooth and DVD burning makes it a steal. It’s going to be a huge hit. $500 is less than a hard weekend of partying in Manhattan. At this price, we should have a Mini for every room— and I think that’s the idea.

It occurred to me that something was missing here— and I’m starting to realize this may be the first piece in a larger plan. It’s been said the Mini’s target is PC iPod users that could be swayed to the Mac if there was a cheap offering. If that’s the case then the Mini is lacking a major feature that tips us off to it’s future…

Audio. iTunes listeners are going to want to hook it up to their stereos. I’m amazed that it only has a mini-headphone jack output. The iMac and Powermacs all have optical audio out. They all have audio in. Even the Airport Express sports optical audio out. No Audio in and lousy stereo headphone out? Something is missing here.

Steve made a big deal announcing that this is the year of HD Video. Quicktime 7 is going to support it— as well as 22 channel surround sound. Wouldn’t you think Apple would want to leverage all that in their new Mac? High definition DVDs outputting jaw dropping surround sound to your home theater?

Here’s what I think is coming…

In the days leading up to MacWorld Apple was aggressively trying to plug a leak of a secret project that was rumored to be announced at the Keynote. Court documents filed in the trade secret suits by Apple referred to the hardware product by code name “Asteroid.” It’s was well believed in the rumor world that Asteriod was an audio break-out box for GarageBand users to connect their home instruments. Asteriod wasn’t released— or announced— but the lawsuits remain. This product is still coming. It’s still a secret Apple want’s to keep under wraps.

Asteriod is going to be far more than a break-out box. Asteriod will be the missing link to provide a Digital Livingroom Macintosh. Asteroid will be a Firewire based media bridge. An external box that inputs and outputs video (HD) and digital audio. Asteriod will provide PVR features much like the Elgato capture peripheral. It will ship with an iApp that allows time shifting of video, slideshows and music on your TV (a la TiVo Home Media Option) and home theatre integration. Sharing of video captures (television shows) via rendezvous (like iPhoto) using Quicktime’s killer new compression codecs- and locked down with Tivo-To-Go type DRM. Being sold as an external add on, Mac users will be able to utilize their existing hardware, even if they don’t own a Mini.

The goal for the Mini is much more than PC switchers. Apple wants one next to a TV in every room of your house.

Next logical step— iTunes store selling DVD downloads. Tivo has partnered with NetFlix to provide DVD downloads to your TiVo, there’s no reason why Apple can’t do it with their negotiating power over the entertainment industry. The iTunes Music Store now plays movie previews and is heavily integrated with Quicktime. Apple needs to keep in the forefront. It won’t be long before TiVo type convergence devices (Comcast DVR, Moxie, etc..) are also providing the purchasing of online music and saving it to a local share.

Don’t complain about Mini storage limitations… that’s a third party opportunity. As a thousand iPod accessory manufactures popped up, so will the Mini spawn a cottage industry building items like 300GB firewire externals with the same footprint as the Mini and stack neatly on top. Need more space for more movies, photos and music? Stack another storage block on top of the Mini.

Apple has learned from the iPod that add on accessories are cash cows. Inexpensive Minis, with inexpensive “Asteroid” video-audio boxes, with inexpensive add on storage. In the end it’s not so inexpensive. But Mac users will buy all of it. Asteroid is on a collision course for your Mac Mini and your living-room.


-3 Comments

The free ipod people are now offering a free Mac Mini

http://www.macminis4free.com/default.aspx?r=173716

cripes, I'd buy that in minute. please please please

look at the power connector:

http://www.macnews.de/gallery/displayimage.php?pid=521&fullsize=1

there's other contacts in there. something is going to plug in between the power cord and the mac mini that needs more power than the firewire bus can provide.

The Mac mini is designed to be cheap, and it would need a better card for enjoying a HD-DVD on a HDTV screen, I think. Adding that card and a DVD burner are a must for for a home media center but Mac mini would then be too expensive.

My prediction is that in 1/2 years we will have a Mac mini-like all-in-one media center BUT only when Apple has an agreement of the majors to sell movies AND tv shows online. We should wait for n Asteroid+iTunes Movie Store bundle.

The iPod+iTunes strategy has been a success, and Apple will adapt that experience to the movie distribution business. By the way, that is also the reason why Apple is NOT going to develope an iPod for movies.

the comcast dvr and the up and coming tivo HD don't have processors that are more powerful than a PPC G4, and I'm sure some tasks like audio DSP will be offloaded to the "Asteroid" box...

and lets not forget, this thing won't capturing and outputting raw HDTV streams- it's going to outputting video that has been run through one of Quicktime's new lossless codecs ... what was the high-end one last Keynote? Pixel or something?

Pixlet.

This actually sounds plausible, which is weird.

While this does sound cool, I can't see it happening. I just bought Shrek 2 on DVD and could only fast forward through the commercials in the DVD. I think the entire online music business only accounts for 5% of the profits from music sales, so I don't think that Apple would have the pull with the entertainment industry to overcome broadcasting movies in QuickTime. What's wrong with QuickTime? The same thing that's happening with AAC; DRM palatable to the consumer that can be hacked. If you can hack the DRM, you can hack the commercials out of a stream with iMovie. I'm pretty sure the movie industry wouldn't like that. Of course, I've never been good with digital security, and I'm a bit buzzed at the moment, so I could very well be missing something.

I don't think asteroid will have a TV tuner of any kind, but that's just me. Steve hasn't made bravado comments about the "people don't watch TV on their computer" in a while, but I think he still sees this as a 3rd party party-- for now.

Part of the online DVD issue for now is bandwidth. There just isn't the broadband penetration in this country for that. Tivo owners are an even more elite group than Mac owners-- and just as affluent.

Remember, 2005 is all about market share. Apple wants to keep things simple, direct, and popular. Getting the CPU/OS into the home is first priority. Getting TV onto the CPU/OS is next though!

I got so excited by the obvious implications of a living room Mac though. I even wrote up a quickie how-to here: http://solutionspheres.blogspot.com

Enjoy!

That's the first thing I thought too... an audio brfeakout box for Garageband doesn't seem worth the time - it's just such a 3rd party type of niche - but AV breakout to provide media center functionality with 5.1 audio, video in/out, and possibly additional hard disk storage (maybe dedicated for recording video), plus High Def video recording, and you'd have a package that would be the leading media pc. I'm guessing by the first speed-bumped Mac minis we'll be there.

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from: http://www.apple.com/finalcutexpress/specs.html

To edit HDV (both 1080i and 720p) with FCE, you need 1GHz or faster PowerPC G4 or G5 processor and 1GB of RAM"

Clearly the Mini has what it needs to input/output and edit HDV.

No, I think you're wrong.

Apple may be working on a PVR thingy, but I think the Mac mini - as shipped now - is primarily a low-end reach machine. Significant redesign could change this, of course, but that's not what we're talking about.

The lack of digital audio and built-in S-Video/composite connectors and the slowish 2.5" hard drive may be a strategic move to make sure it does not compete against a different PVR-enabled machine in the future. Oh, and wireless networking just sucks for real-time video. (For syncing it could be great, but not real-time playback.)

If there's one thing that Microsoft's Media Center idea shows it's that a PC can do PVR just fine... but that's not what people think to use PC's for. The PC doesn't go into the living room, and the PC interface is difficult to use on a regular TV. (MCE has a great 10-foot interface, but you still need to go back to the regular windows desktop now and then.) It's like software phone answering machines - a PC with a modem can do anything an answering machine can, but the software was a total failure. This is why TiVo is clearly winning.

If Apple were going to make a PVR thingy, what would make sense is one that was controllable/configurable from a traditional iTunes-like application, where huge amounts of text data (aka "The Program Guide") is easy to navigate, and give the device itself relatively simple iPod-like playback controls.

The sweet-spot for a video iPod isn't in the portable market... it's in the living room.

I've added the FREE MAC MINI url to my blacklist. There'll be no more posting that here. See here why I don't think it's going to work for you:

http://www.studio2f.com/misc/2005/01/13freemacmini.php

I love reading apple rumors like this and then see what happens. I can't remember a single rumor ever being right, except of course the ones that were based on leaked information which was also sued into hell!

Logical steps hardly seem to be the apple way but hey rumors rock! ^_^

stealth ninja pirate bunnies.

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I am soo happy! I wanted a Mac pc so bad because I have a windows, but I just got the windows PC and it's brand new, so there was NO way I could afford to buy a new mac, I'm so amazed at this thing! And I am SO happy it's cheap, I hope it works well! So you can just plug it in to any keyboard and monitor? thats awesome!

Someone above said, "look at the power connector: (url)

there�s other contacts in there. something is going to plug in between the power cord and the mac mini that needs more power than the firewire bus can provide"

Uh, guess what? That power connector is symmetrical. Meaning you can plug it in in either direction. So, take the number of contacts inside (ten) and split it in half (five)...

I don't know what the voltages are, but if it were anything like a PC there'd be a ground, 12v, 5v, etc. That's three right there, etc. Sorry to provide some 'grounding' in reality... :)

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