Apple Sauce: My Three Quibbles with Cupertino

by Ted Wallingford

Related link:

It occurred to me that "Apple Sauce" would be a great way to title my two recent quarrels with Apple, but only after I realized that my wife's shiny new Mac Mini, which turned her 2.2. GHz Windows PC into eBay fodder, was not really "Mini" in price after all.

Now, before the rabid IADL (Irrational Apple Defense League) springs to opposition to this post, hear me out. Let's get the obligatory Apple compliments out the of the way first.

One: A consumer Mac that sells for what consumer PCs sell for is, by and large, a fantastic idea. Those of us who like Apple's products are glad that Steve finally got close to it. I say close because, by the time you add ample RAM, a keyboard, and a mouse to the 1.42 GHz model, you're into the $700-$800 neighborhood anyway.

Two: The Mac Mini's form factor alone makes it super-cool. The coolest thing about looking at the Mac Mini, sexy though it may be, is that I can tuck it away and NOT have to look at it. 'Nuff said.

Now, on to the complaining.

Stingy on Memory

Why, oh why, doesn't Apple use some of that good-old American purchasing power, call up a buddy over at Micron or Viking, and put a realistic 512 MB of RAM in the Mac Mini instead of shipping it with a crippled 256 MB? I do most of my research on a G4 Powerbook with 256 MB of RAM, flipping back and forth between Safari, Microsoft Word, Terminal, and Skype. So I know about the pain associated with low RAM (Yes, I'll soon be adding more RAM to my Powerbook!). The last thing Apple wants is Joe Six Pack saying, "This Mac Mini is way slower than my PC" because his PC came with 1 GB of RAM.

You just can't cope with OS X and 3 or 4 applications running at once with so little RAM--especially the "bread and butter" apps like iPhoto and Garageband. Not to mention World of Warcraft, the fastest selling Mac/PC game of all time, which was introduced nearly 2 months before the Mac Mini, requires exactly double the amount of RAM the Mini ships with. Take a queue from Blizzard, Apple. You can't appeal to the digital lifestyle without addressing the original digital lifestyle activity: video games. The answer is simple--more RAM.

And don't give me all the "shipping more RAM will raise the price" stuff. If the Mac Mini isn't a loss leader, it should be. Even still, it could have plenty of margin with 512 MB of RAM. How much does a stick of Viking 512 MB cost, wholesale--30 bucks? With a big contract from Apple to buy down the cost of RAM, the price of the Mini could stay right where it's at.

Now then, don't even get me started on the paltry 32 MB of video memory. The argument is basically the same anyway.

No Audio Line In on the Mini!!

This one has already been beaten to death, so I'll keep it short. How are you going to use Apple's bread and butter apps iChat and Garageband without an Audio Line In or Microphone, without which both are gimpy? Combine that with the fact that 3 or 4 dozen pre-existing PCB assemblies exist with 1 Mic, 1 Line In, and 1 Line Out. All Apple has to do is pick an assembly, poke 2 more holes in the back of the Mini, and voila! I'm just scratching my head on this one.

Now, last, and probably least:

Why Can't Apple Add new Products to their Online Store Without Downtime?

With all the staging and content management solutions on the market, why does it always seem to take Apple anywhere of 4 to 12 hours of downtime to get a new product online?

I'll let you answer this one, cause I'm not a web expert. Rather, I'm just a casual observer who thinks, "If we can put a man on the moon," why can't Apple put a new Powerbook on their store without an embarrassing Under Construction logo?

What's your best conspiracy theory regarding the lack of a line in on the Mac Mini?


2005-02-07 10:21:45
Re: No Line In
I faced a similar situation with my PowerBook. While it is a bit aggervating, for the microphone problem you can buy a USB mic for cheap. I also have a USB MIDI keyboard for GarageBand, so I'd wonder how many people are actually wanting to use real instruments w/ GarageBand, but are using a mini as a main machine.

I'm not saying Apple COULDN'T do line in, but I am saying that it's pretty easy (in these cases) to get around it.

2005-02-07 11:30:19
Re: No Line In
Ditto on my iBook (at least some PowerBook models have line in; no iBook models do).

My fix was the Griffin iMic: it's a decent solution for a reasonable price, and it works v. nicely with Audio Hijack too.

2005-02-07 12:15:38
Under construction
I think the "Under construction" page has more to do with Apple's showmanship when introducing new models than the technical issues of updating the web site. They certainly aren't going to put the new models up on the site before Jobs gives his keynote. Should they take orders for the old products before putting up the news ones? Perhaps, but then Apple would have some unhappy customers.

When there's no associated show, such as the latest Powerbook speed bump, I don't think the under construction page makes an appearance. If it does, its merely a cameo.

2005-02-07 12:47:49
timex sinclair
That Timex sinclair did indeed rock! Apple is getting close to the price on it, too. ;)

I did my only assembler programming on that T/S 1000. 8K operating system, and it had a lot packed in there!

Ah, the good old days.

2005-02-07 13:11:27
Rock bottom specs probably intentional
I think the real "error", if any, is in Apple not selling the "this machine has the least: you add the bits you want and don't have to pay for those you don't want or need" message well enough -- assuming your "ramble" reflects their marketing accurately. (I've read very little of the marketing as I feel I can see where its at and its not for me -- I need high end desktops.)

This machine, to me, targets a number of niches in where users that want a bottom-end machine plus perhaps just one or two (minor) things. The specs will be defined by the very bottom-end user.

For the very bottom end users you need to think of the (rare these days?) people who more-or-less only use a single application -- a word processor, web browser, that silly patience game (I know people like that!) or for more technical uses, a machine with a dedicated role. They don't want to pay for features they'll never use. I'd like to think that the mMac (or should that be Mac-m) specs start at this point.

Someone who knows that they need quite a bit more than just one or two bits added to a mMac, should be looking at the desktop range.

2005-02-07 13:26:16
Rock bottom specs probably intentional
Very true. I do think that's Apple's strategy.

If the issue is purely price, no amount of Apple cuteness will overcome it. I guess my point is that if they buy a PC at this price point, they get a DVD burner, twice the memory, a real hard drive (not the 4800 rpm clunker in the Mini), and a much better video card.

That said, I think the real value of the Mini is that it gives you low-priced access to Apple's killer apps--Garageband, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD. Stuff you probably will never be able to get on Windows.

Don't let all this sour talk give the wrong impression though--without making over-arching excuses for Apple, I believe the Mac Mini is going to be nothing but good for Mac sales.

2005-02-08 05:12:43
Audio line in/out
I've read in reviews that the mini's audio port goes both ways depending on what you plug into it-- is this incorrect?
2005-02-08 06:19:35
Audio line in/out
Even if it does, under most circumstances--chat and recording come to mind--you need a Microphone AND a speaker system. So a two-way port wouldn't be of any use, I'm afraid.
2005-02-08 06:35:21
Audio line in/out
Well, hmm, but there's a non-trivial difference between 'it's impossible' and 'it's not optimal'. The missing feature you're complaining about isn't actually missing-- it's implemented in a low-cost fashion. C'est la vie. You get what you pay for.
2005-02-08 06:51:06
Audio line in/out
There's no combo port on the Mini, regardless. I'd say that makes it 'impossible'.
2005-02-08 13:30:36
iSight has built in mic and uses firewire
this is the premiere way to use iChat. Also a usb audio device is handy if your really going to use garageband.