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MacTel Early?

December 4th, 2005

Apple’s announcement of their Intel-powered line of computers claimed the new Macs would not start appearing until June of 2006. It is becoming more and more likely, however, that at least one and maybe a few Intel Macs will be released as early as next month, half a year early.

Though Apple, as always, is keeping closed-mouthed about this, rumors have proliferated that a Mac Mini, an iBook, and/or a keynote the expo. Since all the Macs and iPods have recently been updated and the usual reason for a keynote by Jobs is to release a new product, it seems likely that this will indeed be the case.

Just a few days ago, Think Secret reported that not only will the MacTel Mini be released in January, but that it will be reborn as a digital hub, including a built-in iPod dock and DVR-like video recording software, presumably to allow you to record any show and then see it on your iPod. That rumor has a flaw, however: Apple just recently opened up the video section at the iTunes Music Store, with new TV episodes downloading for $2 a pop. Why give people the means to do it for free? Yes, the pat version would be without commercials, but it seems counterproductive for Apple to give people such an easy alternative to buying their latest iTMS offerings–especially if the Video iPod would allow viewers to fast-forward past commercials. Not to mention they’d be greatly ticking off the media companies they’re trying to arrange an association with.

A non-DVR and non-iPod-docking MacTel Mini, on the other hand, seems far more likely, mostly because of the general Apple sales strategy that was apparent from the start. Think about it: buy one computer, a cheap one, no less, and you can have the Mac OS and Windows. Make those easily switchable (which might be hard on RAM), and you have a killer product.

In order to switch to a Mac, people used to have to throw away everything they had previously bought, and start over with new hardware and software. When the Mac Mini was introduced, they could keep their monitor and keyboard, and only had to throw away their software and start over again. With the MacTel Mini, they will not have to throw anything away. They can have it all–run their existing Windows apps, and switch to Mac OS X whenever they feel like it.

But why do that? Why go to the Mac OS at all? One easy answer is to avoid viruses and other security headaches–a major concern for a lot of people. They can do their email and Internet work on Mac OS X using Mail and Safari, or buy/download other software solutions, and then switch to Windows for other stuff. Keeping networking tasks on Mac OS X would make virus infections near impossible (until hackers start targeting Mac OS–though there’s no guarantee they’ll have nearly as much success as they had getting through Windows’ sieve-like security). Safe computing without having to buy Anti-virus software.

And that’s assuming that they won’t be tempted by Apple’s own snazzy style and impressive software suite. With a Mac, you’d get an integrated suite of iLife apps with the computer–iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, and Garage Band, as well as Safari, Mail, Address Book, iCal, iChat, Dictionary, and the QuickTime/DVD Player video apps. Not a bad free package to come with the computer.

True, many PCs come with Word and Excel (though usually not PowerPoint). But Apple offers the iWork suite for $80, and while the current bundle only includes word processing and presentation software, a spreadsheet program called “Numbers” is rumored to be on the way. Say they introduce that app at the January Mac Expo and up the iWork price to $99. That’s still way below the $365 price tag for the standard version of MS Office, even well below the $220 you’d pay just for an MS Office upgrade. And all of the iWork apps are compatible with MS Office docs, able to both open and save in the formats most people use. When you’re buying a computer, an extra $100 for that kind of suite is not something that would slow most people down. Of course, if Apple were smart, they’d bundle iWork with the MacTel Mini for free for at least the first year or two.

The reason that’d be a smart move is because (at least I believe) the MacTel move will prove to be the biggest threat to Microsoft’s domination of the computer market that we have ever witnessed. Providing a platform which can house both operating systems is the first truly viable switching environment–and as I’ve stated before, I think that a lot of people will say that for a few hundred extra bucks, getting a MacTel Mini will be well worth it. From there, it’s just a matter of people getting hooked on the Mac OS as they use it side-by-side with Windows and see the difference. (I wonder, will the new MacTel Keyboards have a Windows key?)

Heck, it may not even be a price hike to buy a Mac–the only serious WinTel contender against the Mac Mini is AOpen’s Mini PC, a virtual physical clone of the Mac Mini–and it’s priced significantly higher than the Mac. A Mac Mini would set you back $500, but an almost identically outfitted AOpen would cost you $620; the high-end Mac Mini is $700, but the similar high-end AOpen is $890. For the same form and performance, Apple’s Mac Mini is actually 20% cheaper. And the AOpen doesn’t even come with TV-video output.

Will it really be that tough a choice?

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  1. December 7th, 2005 at 02:24 | #1

    You make some good points here.

    Apple is known to be providing a pretty slick dual-boot option in OS X for Intel, and the Mini is the most obvious place for people to use it.

    I agree that hot-switching would be the best solution for the user, but it would, I think, bring some very serious problems with it for Apple. For starters, it would beat the RAM nearly to death, and the Mini is supposed to be a lower-end machine. The more important bit, though, is that Apple would then imply some sort of support for Windows, which is a situation I don’t think they’d put themselves in, even if it’s only a public perception.

    Also, the main thrust of Apple’s switch-pitch is not about viruses, it’s about how much better the OS X user experience is than the Windows one. So I think from their point of view it’s better to have switchers using OS X and then occasionally rebooting into Windows when they absolutely positively need to use that ‘doze-only app. And then (presumably) they’ll be reminded how ugly ‘doze is and curse Microsoft for its clunkiness rather than Apple for its lack of apps. (Or so Apple would hope, I think.) The case where someone actually is using both OS’s daily is smaller.

    And for that case, I think you’ll very quickly see third-party apps.

    I predict something cheap or free that makes it easy to set up a dual-boot system with shared data (and migrates all your e-mail and Firefox settings and so forth to OS X). And something expensive for professionals who actually need to switch back and forth (say, web developers who need to do browser testing). VMWare will probably be available for OS X hosts, and VirtualPC will get a lot less virtual.

    Finally, I agree that the Mini is unlikely to be a full media-center system just yet, mostly because of the hard drive. You can’t fit a 3.5″ in that case; Apple would look bad making the Mini bigger; and big 2.5″ drives are way too expensive for the price point (Apple can’t raise prices). I bet it will come with some cool software in that direction, though — it just won’t try to knock out your TiVo (yet). I think eventually, Jobs would like a Mini where every TiVo sits now, but not until they’ve got a solution for DRM-ing the shows and putting them on the iPod.

    Oof, long comment.

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