Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Leader Spoke

by Tom Bozzo

I was going to hold off until later, but I see from the MacCentral "live blogging" of the Jobs keynote that Apple did not, in fact, sue Think Secret over nothing. The G4-based "Mac mini" will start at $499. The music section of the keynote is in progress.

Update 1: The Mac mini looks like the Cube jr. in an anodized aluminum case a la the PowerBooks. The enclosure measures 6.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches and weighs 2.9 lb. The specifications are otherwise in iBook/PowerBook territory, which is to say perfectly respectable for everyday use with the notable exception of graphically cutting-edge games. The price looks a lot more right than the poor Cube's at first glance, but a good question is how the price runs up with obvious add-ons (802.11g card, Bluetooth, extra RAM). Finding that out will have to wait until traffic dies down at the online Apple store.

Update 2: Is it worth it? Well-equipped, the Mac mini prices out around $800-900 plus monitor. At this price, I think Bob Snow at PowerPage nailed it: for an owner of a pre-existing digital TV with a DVI or HDMI interface, the mini looks great. With a low-end flat panel, it's still a not immaterial amount cheaper than the iMac. The question is whether this is cheap enough to resolve most price-performance tradeoffs with iMacs and Apple portables — not to mention the PC rabble.

As a technical matter, it's curious that the Mac mini does not seem to be a headless iMac as the rumors described it so much as a headless iBook.

As for the other prognostications, I lose on the Tiger ship date, just indicated as first half of '05, and the PowerBook speed bump. ThinkSecret had described the latter shortly before the Expo as "confirmed," validating one reader's warnings about putting too much stock in the Mac rumor mill. I still think a quiet bump for the PowerBooks is probable unless the G5s are coming Really Soon.

The iPod "shuffle" did materialize. The name doesn't grab me, but I doubt that matters.

I can score myself a point for marking a concerted push of the iPod into cars, as factory iPod adapters to be available from Mercedes, Volvo, Nissan, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari were announced. The iPod shuffle is not designed to be part of the car push, as it lacks the dock connector to which the car interfaces connect.

Also, the "shuffle" has, despite its lack of moving parts, the same operating temperature range as the hard drive iPods, according to the shuffle's specs page. So the shuffle is in principle no more suitable for a very hot or very cold glovebox than the full-fledged iPods.

I also note with mild amusement that the Mercedes adapter will be twice the price of the BMW interface, which has been available for a few months.

Update 3: The Mercedes adapter does have significant additional functionality compared to the BMW connector: you can browse all playlists on the iPod, and the in-dash multifunction display shows track information. The BMW setup only allows access to a limited set of playlists via the station preset buttons and does not display track names. Needless to say, "M[ercedes]B[enz]USA['s legal department] recommends that this scrolling feature be used only when the vehicle is stopped and that full attention be paid on the road."
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