Apple’s Latest Releases

I just realized that for all of the comments and emails and IM’s that I’ve had about the Mac mini and the iPod shuffle, I never got around to posting a blurb about it here. And in spite of all the conversations I’ve on about the latest round of hardware releases from Apple, I don’t have all that much to say about it, but what I do have to say doesn’t seem to be repeated by every Apple fan I hear from.

I recently picked up a Rio Cali and have decided to sell off one of my iPods. I’m keeping my Click-Wheel iPod for as my portable jukebox and I’m still using a 40GB portable HD in the office for music there (it plays off my PC, so I don’t abuse the iPod’s battery).

The Cali came with 256MB and an SD slot that now holds a 512MB card. The entry level shuffle is cheaper that the Cali and holds more data, never mind the extra SD card, so by all rights I should have buyers remorse. But I don’t. Which in and of itself is an oddity, but there were two reasons why I wanted the Cali. One was because it was a flash player which means I could kick the crap out of it and not have to worry about trashing a HD; the shuffle could do that. The other was because the Cali has an FM tuner: very nice feature when your gym broadcasts live TV sound on the FM band. All of the other things – the price, the screen, the interface, the data storage, the USB-Drive based design, the “do not chew” label… didn’t much matter, so for change I have no buyers remorse.

The Mac mini is causing a much larger stir in my head – the shuffle I could take or leave obviously, so it’s not pinging around much. I was watching the live text/blog feeds of the keynote address when the mini was announced. The first thing that popped into my head was “oh, man, they brought back the Cube” which, aside from the fruit iBooks, is probably the most sought after Apple products. Once I saw the specs, I guess that Apple took a page from the VW playbook: create a modern and up to date product but make it similar enough to resemble a successful and legendary product [like the VW Beetle].

After seeing the line up of iLife ’05, the Mac mini can be a great music mixing, movie mastering, photo storing, DVD burning, jukebox pumping machine. I could easily be the cornerstone of the “digital home”: the only feature missing is TiVo-like video recording. It’s got a DVI port on the back so broadcasting HD is a non-issue. With iMovie HD, video editing should be fun. The machine itself has decent specs and it’s cheap.

Yes, my PC currently serves up music and pictures. I can edit movies and burn DVD’s one it. If I had a need to mix music, I would have found a Garageband-like PC software package. But I’ve had a PC for a long while – adding new software to it was part of enhancing it and that kept the cost low. For someone just starting out with PC’s – and I hear that’s still a large number – or for people that have ancient machines, this is a pretty neat package to swoop up. Will it do everything that a regular PC can do? Hells no. Will it do the things that most home users will want to do? I think it might.

But that’s the real question, isn’t it? I’ve seen a lot of people lusting after this machine for a home server. For a server, I don’t see the mini being a nice fit. Even though it’s RAM can scale to a GB, the HD will be a gating item; to keep the footprint small, Apple used a 2.5″ hard drive and those currently top out at 100GB (the mini is currently available as 40 or 80GB). Video storage would eat that HD in no time at all. So then you say, “oO, external HD’s!” but you’ll need to get a hub for it and whole knows if that will make for a bottleneck. And of course, if you max out the machine – RAM, HD, CPU, BT, WiFi, etc. – the cost climbs to $1K… for $1.4K you can get a Power Mac (G5) and well, now you’re a Geek again.

There seems to be a lot of focus in the industry on this whole home media machine bit – much like there is on Searching lately, which also baffles me – because I don’t know that all of that hype is merited… I’d like a networked media machine, sure. I’ve even got a bit of one already and I find it to be useful. But do my people like my parents want one? Need one? My parents have a Christmas-themed CD player; my sister and I put in Christmas discs about four years ago and ever December they’re still in there, waiting for us.

If it wasn’t for my house hunting – and sticker shock from that process – I’d probably have ordered one already, just to have… That’s not even a question. iDVD has a new feature that will dump an entire MiniDV tape to a DVD. Know how awesome that? That’s huge. That alone would make it worth adding this lil box to my KVM and plugging in an extra network cable. The real question is what does this mean for the rest of the industry, thru 2005…

This was the splash – the ripples will follow.

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