Friday, October 24, 2008

‘rumors...greatly exaggerated’

AppleInsider has published an article which adds substance to the hope that the Mac mini may simply be approaching a refresh, instead of its untimely demise. Their piece appears to be based mainly upon an article published on the website of a company which provides colocation services for Mac minis, and which arguably has more experience with them than anyone else.

In that article, claims to be “certain” that a refreshed Mac mini is on the way.

One detail they seem far less certain about, is whether it will include an NVIDIA GPU/chipset, or an Intel chipset with integrated graphics.

I can see that going either way. On the one hand, using their chipset would help placate Intel, while at the same time helping to differentiate the Mac mini as a low-end machine, rather than a MacBook without the built-in screen. It would also leave more room for a premium version of the Apple TV including an NVIDIA GPU/chipset.

On the other hand, that scenario makes the lower end of Apple's product line look rather cluttered. To me it seems more elegant to tie the Mac mini more closely to the MacBook, marketing it as essentially the stationary version of the same machine, which can be priced lower not only because it doesn't include a display, keyboard, touchpad, or battery, but also because it doesn't need to be both light and strong enough for portable use.

Design it to take advantage of the same 3-port cable the new 24" Cinema Display uses to connect to the MacBook, and the chances of selling both together rise dramatically. Such a combined sale would surely be more profitable for Apple than the sale of a MacBook alone.

The biggest stickler is sorting out the overlap between the Apple TV and the Mac mini, but I'm sure Apple already has a plan for that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mac mini redux

Infinite Loop is also saying the Mac mini may be dead.

I've got to disagree with them where they say “Pair it with a 24" LED Cinema Display, though, and you might as well buy the 24" iMac.” Not to slight the iMac, but there's several reasons for preferring the Mac mini + Cinema Display combination.

First, you can update the computer without having to buy a new screen, especially now, with Apple having just begun the rollout of a new Cinema Display line, with the new DisplayPort connector.

On the other hand, if you want both a stationary machine and a portable, the combination of a Mac mini and Cinema Display allows you to use the Cinema Display with your MacBook or MacBook Pro, something you can't currently do with the built-in display of an iMac. Maybe the new iMacs that are rumored to be due soon will make this possible.

Perhaps most importantly, the Mac mini can serve as a starter machine. If what you really want is a Mac Pro, but you can't afford both it and the screen right now, you can start out with the combination of a Mac mini and Cinema Display, and then a year or two later move up to the Mac Pro, continuing to use the same large, bright display.

So I'm going to go out on a limb by speculating that the Mac mini, as a product category, isn't dead at all, but undergoing a major reworking. Maybe the name will change. Maybe it'll resurface as the Apple TV-II or as the AirPort Server, but there's just too many ways a lower-end Mac without a built-in display can leverage the rest of the product line to let it disappear altogether.

That the Mac mini hasn't sold so well thus far can be attributed at least in part to lagging updates and a Cinema Display line that was long overdue for refresh. If brought up to equivalence with the consumer MacBook line, and kept there, it should sell well enough.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Apple and NVIDIA, sitting in a tree

Okay, enough seriousness, back to my favorite subject...

NVIDIA yesterday introduced the desktop versions of their chipset-in-a-chip with integrated GPUs, recently featured in the new MacBook and MacBook Pro machines.

AppleInsider quotes NVIDIA as stating that their “engineering team was presented with a challenge from an unnamed party, to ‘deliver a desktop GPU which integrates full system I/O and discrete-level performance in one-half the size of previous integrated graphics solutions.’”

I'll be assuming for the present purpose that unnamed party was Apple, since it's already well known that they'd presented a similar challenge with regard to bringing desktop-level performance to notebooks.

But why should size be a primary consideration?

Even the 20-inch iMac is roomier inside than any MacBook Pro, and could surely accommodate a larger chip package than that found in the new Apple notebooks. Granted that circuit board area is relatively expensive, but the size of the GPU package still wouldn't seem to rate such attention, unless...

Maybe Apple has something else in mind to do with the chip besides putting it into an iMac, like maybe putting it into a Mac mini, Apple TV, and/or a new product that's essentially both in one. In any variant of that scenario, concern over the size of the chip package would suddenly make complete sense.

How soon are we likely to find out? At a guess, probably not before Macworld '09, since there's still a lot of Apple TV inventory that needs to be moved off the shelves, although, if they plan to continue selling the current Apple TV as a low-end model, much as they're continuing to sell the white plastic MacBook at a discounted price, the inventory wouldn't matter, and an announcement could come sooner.

If Apple is serious about making the Apple TV a contender as a gaming platform, and I think they are, then they'll be shoehorning at least the most modest of NVIDIA's new integrated graphics chips into it.

Update: Gizmodo says it's been told by two major European retailers that they are unable to order more Mac minis, and that they shouldn't expect further shipments, although it's not clear whether that's a reference to current models or the entire product category. Also, in today's quarterly financial report, Steve Jobs said several different ways that Apple wouldn't be competing in the low end of the computer market, but would rather choose to continue to provide increasing value in the market segments it does serve. While what he said wouldn't seem to rule out a reworked Mac mini, or a replacement product with a comparable price range, he did seem to rule out the possiblity of dropping price of any Apple computer to $500 or below. He also said that he expects the Apple TV to remain a hobby through 2009.

Friday, October 10, 2008

voting your enlightened self-interest

What could ‘enlightened self-interest’ possibly mean? Isn't enlightenment supposed to be incommensurate with self-inolvement?

I suppose that depends on what you mean by ‘self’ and therefore by self-interest.

If by ‘self’ you mean your body and the collection of possessions under your control, then the phrase ‘enlightened self-interest’ must seem like so much nonsense, in which the word ‘enlightened’ will have been reduced to another way of saying self-interested, rendering the phrase redundant. (This view, if expansive enough to include a concern for reputation, is likely to lead to relative material prosperity, that is being more prosperous than others.)

On the other hand, if by ‘self’ you (also) mean your mind and its sociocultural environment, then your ‘self-interest’ may extend to conditions which don't directly or only marginally impinge on your own life. (This view, if sufficiently grounded in reality, is likely to lead to social stability and long term sustainability, with distributed, moderate material prosperity.)

So think a moment before you cast your vote, whether you are giving your support to the ticket which better represents your enlightened self-interest, or to the ticket which would be better described as waving it in your face, as a matador waves his cape at the bull, concealing a sword behind it.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

shaking off the numbness

Lies and distortions are everywhere around us, so much so that many of us have lost the ability to distinguish between claims that are relatively trustworthy and those that are not. There's so much noise that picking out a real signal can be a daunting task.

Nor is this situation likely to turn around anytime soon, certainly not before the election.

It's up to all of us to rise to the challenge, to put aside our perceptual enervation and peer through the fog to the reality of the choices before us.

If you haven't already, pull your veracity meter out of the closet, dust it off, be merciless in making use of it, and be prepared for a struggle. The art of lying is largely a matter of timely escape, leaving those who would pin liars down looking where they no longer are, their having quickly qualified what they'd said to avoid responsibility for its effect.