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Roundup?Macworld SF 2005

Part 1: Apple's popular appeal By Dave Nagel
For those of you interested in trivia, here's something you might not know. It turns out Apple actually does make computers, not just digital music players. Of course, I can't blame people for not knowing that. After all, the iPod is everywhere, while the Mac is still holed up primarily in the creative professional market. Even at this week's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, attendees and exhibitors seemed more pumped about about iPods and iPod accessories than anything else, though the Mac Mini also made an impression on many attendees, it being the first sub-$500 Mac sold by Apple.

This week's Macworld Expo wasn't just about the iPod, obviously, but this may have been the first Macworld I've attended where something other than the Mac was the center of attention. The iPod is just huge, and the numbers bear it out. Apple sold more than 4.5 million iPods in the last three months alone, which is roughly 4.5 times the number of Macintosh computers the company sold in the same period. On, the iPod and iPod Mini were each separately in the top-5 electronics devices sold during the holiday season. The mere announcement of the newest iPod--the iPod Shuffle--was enough to score Apple coverage on CNN. In fact, the iPod is so big that it even drew protesters to the Moscone Center, where Macworld SF is held. (The idea of the protest was that iPods contain components that can harm the environment when they're discarded. Keep that in mind when you're thinking about chucking your $600 music player.)

How big an impact the iPod had on attendance this year may never be known. But at a time when no significant new hardware announcements were expected--unless you consider the Mac Mini significant--attendance was up from last year's numbers, according to IDG World Expo's preliminary figures. The company says the final attendance figure should be higher than last year's, which was 32,409. (Final figures will be released two months from now.) And what the vast majority of these people were excited about were the major new consumer electronics announcements from Apple.

Apple hardware: Mac Mini and iPod Shuffle
Apple's biggest (physically) hardware announcement was, ironically, the Mac Mini, the smallest and least expensive Mac Apple has ever produced. Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the device during his keynote presentation Jan. 12, to a gape-jawed crowd so vast it extended beyond the auditorium and into the foyer. Further overflow was handled in a separate room, where attendees could watch the keynote address live via closed-circuit. To hear the reaction of the crowd at the Mini's announcement, you'd think nobody'd ever seen a G4 before. But apparently cramming the components of an eMac into a form factor the size of a CD wallet is enough to get an awful lot of people standing up and shouting. Well, more than I'd expect, anyway.

Images courtesy of Apple

The Mac Mini is a stripped-down G4 system available in two configurations, one selling for $499, the other for $599. The $499 model sports a 1.25 GHz G4 processor and comes with a 40 GB hard drive. The $599 model includes a 1.42 GHz G4 processor and an 80 GB hard drive. Both models include 256 MB of 333 MHz PC2700 DDR SDRAM (expandable to 1 GB via a single slot); a 32 MB ATI Radeon 9200 graphics card (capable of resolutions up to 1,920 x 1,200 to support Apple's 23-inch Cinema HD Display); a slot-loading combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW); 10/100Base-T Ethernet; a 56 Kbps modem; an audio line-out jack; a built-in speaker; one FireWire port; and two USB 2.0 ports. They offer DVI output but also include an adapter for VGA output. It does not include a monitor, keyboard or mouse. Nor does it offer an audio line-in jack.

The available options bring up the price of the Mini considerably. Some of the more significant ones include:

? $425 for 1 GB RAM (a huge jump from the $75 512 MB option)
? $100 for a SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW)
? $50 for internal Bluetooth
? $79 for an AirPort wireless card
? $50 for an 80 GB hard drive in the $499 model

All of which brings the total potential cost to $1,203 for the low-end model or $1,253 for the less low-end model. And that excludes the price of a monitor, keyboard and mouse, assuming you need those. But the folks who find the Mini attractive probably aren't looking for a completely tricked-out system anyway. An extra $75 for 512 MB RAM probably covers the necessary expenses (though iPod Photo users will probably want to kick in extra for the 80 GB hard drive, as it might be embarrassing to have a new computer with less storage capacity than their portable music player).

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