Mac mini: suck it and see
by Giles Turnbull
Apple's latest experiment in consumer satisfaction is, I think, a fascinating new tool in the company's never-ending quest to attract more users to the Mac platform.
Here in the UK, there's a small chain of independent record shops called Fopp. One of Fopp's great attractions is that it has what's known as a "Suck it and see" guarantee. You can buy any CD, and if you don't like it, you can take it back. Simple as that.
As a result, people go to Fopp to buy stuff because they know they can take more risks, and feel more relaxed about spending money.
Apple's Mac mini offer works the same way. Right from day one, the Mac mini has been aimed squarely at people who need a decent computer at a low price. But for many Windows users, even the low price doesn't tip the balance for them. There's still an element of risk in purchasing a Mac mini, simply because to those people, the Mac is an alien thing. OS X represents a learning curve, no matter how shallow, and that puts people off.
The Mac mini test drive takes away the feeling of risk, the fear of the learning curve.
People can buy a Mac mini and be assured that if, after 30 days, they still don't like it, they will have lost nothing. They will still be able to get a refund and spend the money again, on something less risky.
But Apple has a hunch - a pretty solid one, I suspect - that the returns will be a minority of the sales. Apple's confidence in the friendly nature of OS X is not misplaced. Just look at most reviews of Mac hardware that have appeared in Windows-specific magazines in recent years. Even long-time Windows writers have publicly conceded that OS X is an excellent platform, especially for newcomers.
The offer won't provide a huge boost to Mac mini sales; a modest one, at best. But it will make the difference for a small percentage of buyers, people who have been wavering because of this fear of the unknown. Most of those people will now buy, because they feel more secure. And most of those buyers will, I think, end up keeping their computers.
And that's what Apple wants. When your market share is at about 3.5%, even a modest boost can make a serious difference to quarterly figures, and when you've got analysts on your back wondering how to manage the transition from one processor architecture to another, good quarterly figures can be a big help.
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So, within hours of me posting this, Apple does a complete U-turn and removes all signs that the Test Drive ever existed in the first place. With no explanation, no reason, nothing.
Both my Dad and Dad-in-law might have been tempted by this offer; they're both windows users who are more than a little interested in a Mac mini, but it's that small "switch barrier" which is stopping them taking the plunge.