Apple Comes Full-Circle
2004 was big though... maybe bigger than any other year for new product announcements. This year, Apple finally achieved with the Mac something it had been trying to do since 1982. Make the Macintosh affordable. They did this with the Mac mini, a tiny 2.9lbs machine that has everything you could want in a mini computer... and it's only $499. Yes that's right, Apple, the company known for selling hardware only the richest of the rich could consider owning, has released a full-featured computer for just a hair under $500.
Personally, I think this is the best business decision Apple has ever made, especially now considering how well they did with OS X. I'm a closet Mac fan. Though I am too young to remember the momentous launch of the Mac (I was 2 years old in 1984), by the time I was 5, I was crashing my dad's Mac that he brought back from work every night with great glee (I accidentally formatted his hard drive once too). I used Macs almost exclusively from 1987 until 1997 when our aging Mac LC3 (25MHz baby!) was just too sluggish and outdated (not to mention at this point in time, the Mac was at deaths door and no one was releasing software for it). Then we bought a 200MHz HP. This thing did stuff I could only dream of when using the Mac... plus it had a command line interface! I could salvage the computer even after the user interface went to hell! This shift in computing mindset was amazing, and for a time I discarded my mac roots altogether, becoming a PC snob. Linux, Windows, anything with a CLI that could run on x86 architecture was all I cared about. The Mac was a dieing brand in my mind. Sure, I supported them at school and at work for years (you wouldn't believe how rare it was, and in some cases still is, to be equally comfortable troubleshooting under both MacOS and Windows), but I didn't use them if I didn't have to. Then came MacOS X. It was UNIX, only it looked damn good. It just oozed the good design Apple is known for (the first generation iMac and the hockey puck mouse being the exception). But most importantly, IT HAD A CLI!!! I had direct access to the system for the first time on Apple hardware. Rejoice! I wanted one sooo badly now, but there was no way a poor college student could afford one.
This past year, after graduating and finding myself a job that pays a fair bit, I found I could finally afford one. So I bought a 15" Powerbook with a bit of extra RAM for about $2500. Pricey, but worth every penny IMO. I use it as a secondary machine (my Dell XPS is still my main since I do a LOT of gaming) and for whenever I travel anywhere for more than a few days. It's especially great now that I have my parents house setup with wireless connected to their cablemodem. Whenever I have to visit now, I have high-speed Internet from anywhere in their house... it's nice being able to play World of Warcraft (bless you Blizzard for making all of your games cross-platform) while sitting in bed.
Now, you can get one for pennies practically! No more will people be able to say "Well, I'd love to own one, but I just can't afford it." It's 6.5" (L) x 6.5" (W) x 2" (H) and weighs in at 2.9lbs. True it doesn't come with a monitor or anything like that, but with a $10 DVI -> VGA converter, you can use whatever monitor you currently have, or pick up a cheap CRT at WalMart.
Combine the Mac mini with iPod/iTunes and the music broadcast ability from the higher-end AirPort (wireless router) and what you have is a stylish and very powerful home media solution. Now you can either have an ugly beige tower hidden behind your TV and stereo system, or you can have a polished, shiny Mac sitting in front, glowing and looking all impressive. I think this is going to be the next big home computer appliance to have.
The original Macintosh was supposed to cost $500, but as design went on and they realized that to pull off what they wanted to (i.e a completely GUI driven system) the base cost of the hardware pushed it well beyond that price point (at the time, the Sony 3.5" disk drive that came in the Mac cost $30 each at bulk... now you can get one individually for $10 most places). Now, 20 years later, they've finally done it. They've made a computer that is powerful, user friendly, and within the price range of anyone looking to buy a computer.
I think this product may launch Apple back into the PC market with a real bang. I'd love to see them gain some serious market share from this move over the next few years.