Recently I asked: “What use is Apple’s Mac mini, anyway,” an article that questions Apple’s commitment to the product and its relevance in a market increasingly served by mobile devices. Readers responded to the question:
I asked you answered
Apple’s challenge as it seeks out an answer to the question around its commitment to the lowest-cost, entry-level Mac is that a significant chunk of its users wants to keep the Mac mini around.
[ Further reading: 40 tips to get the most from your Mac (and macOS ‘High Sierra’) ]
I know this to be true because, within hours of publishing the piece, I’d received a far higher number of messages via email, Twitter, and other social media feeds than I usually see in reaction to my reports.
These responses’ velocity made it crystal clear that there is still a lot of demand for something like a Mac mini.
Here’s a small sample of some of the messages I received:
“In my world, iOS doesn’t deliver squat,” wrote one reader.
“1,300 days without an update and a price drop,” wrote another.
“They make great living room computers,” said one reader via Twitter.
“It allows me to have a Mac for programming,” another wrote, praising its low cost and longevity.
I must stress that these responses came swiftly and in an above-average number, suggesting they represent a real desire among Mac users to keep the product around. To use Mac mini is to love Mac mini. Those are not the only responses.
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I learned that Mac minis are in use in schools, libraries, and video production offices, and they are used as home and enterprise media and email servers.
I learned that for many of us, Apple’s low-cost, utilitarian Mac fills a significant gap that would otherwise need to be occupied by far more insecure PCs.
I also learned that there remains a significant feeling that Apple should continue to develop and maintain macOS Server, which it appears to be welding into the standard macOS installation.
I think I learned that while pro users may want to base their working life around a high-end Mac, or even an iOS device, they still really like the convenience of using the same OS on a lower-cost device for mundane tasks that don’t need high-end horsepower but do need a dedicated machine.
The professional’s other Mac
Think of it this way: The Final Cut professional may well be using a top-of-the-range iMac Pro, but it may also be using the Mac mini as the brains to drive its video asset system, filling a gap once occupied by the Xserve and Xserve RAID arrays.
In other words, Apple’s low-end Mac still has a place in the professional world and (naturally) also holds lots of space in Mac user hearts as a system for home media, storage, and backup servers.
All these tasks are incredibly crucial to the people who use a Mac mini to do them. None of these customers (who tend, I think, to be more long-term Mac users) will take kindly to being forced to use some other solutions were Apple to cancel the hardware.
I feel many would upgrade if the price were right, and the improved solution was relevant to their needs.
Apple’s traditional Mac user base — small shops of professional creative users — aren’t made of money. They may buy a new iPhone every year, but they want to get the most they can from their Mac and certainly don’t want to pay some “Apple tax” to transition to any Mac mini replacement, given the tasks they use that Mac for.
It’s all about connections
Yesterday I suggested putting the Mac mini on a USB stick. I still think that may be a good solution — I think it would be incredibly favorite, but I don’t think it would fit every Mac mini user’s need.
The number of I/Os on the Mac mini is quite impressive:
When it comes to displays, you get support for HDMI and Mini DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA output (with adaptors).
You get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and even Ethernet networking.
You get two Thunderbolt 2 ports and four USB 3 ports, and there’s even an SDXC card slot!
The cold hard truth is that these interconnects make the Mac mini one of the most flexible Macs Apple now provides. You can even use Apple Remote Desktop to manage these things from another Mac, leaving them working away reliably while hidden from view.
That’s pretty important. Mac mini isn’t just low cost and easy to deploy; it’s also extraordinary reliable — it doesn’t use the latest processors and doesn’t pretend to exploit the latest technologies, and these are real advantages in many of its use case scenarios. Mac mini is a Mac you can afford and can rely on to transact essential tasks at home, in the office, in school, or in the studio. That’s not a bad thing at all.
Apple’s next move?
My report noted that both Apple CEO Tim Cook and SVP Phil Schiller had called Mac mini an “important” product regarding their plans. I have no inside track on what those plans might be — or if the company’s need to squeeze profit from its business will, in the end, outweigh its commitment to the product.
I hope Apple will think about how to improve this product so that it plays to its strengths as an affordable, flexible, reliable Mac for people who need to be 100 percent certain their machine will get the job done. (The last thing they want from a Mac mini is to be stranded using Thunderbolt cables for everything, for example — that’s not representative of what the product does.)
I asked, and readers answered. I don’t come to bury, but to praise Mac mini. Apple’s customers want the product kept around. The company may even listen.
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