Did Apple misfire with the Mac Mini at WWDC 2014 this week? Apple’s strategy this year appeared to be “This is a developer conference and the room is full of developers, so let’s give them software geekery instead of hardware rollouts.” And the audience in the room at the keynote ate it up, right down to the extended portions of the presentation devoted to lines of code from a new programming language – to the point that one was left to ask why Apple bothered making a live stream available for average users at home. But the hardware-free strategy came with one flaw: the room was full of the kind of people who really want a new Mac Mini, and Apple hasn’t bothered to update it in nearly two years. So now what?
Apple has long made clear that it doesn’t care much about the Mac Mini, dating back to when Steve Jobs first introduced it a decade ago in a brief and enthusiasm-free portion of a keynote. And that’s for good reason, as the Mini deviates from Apple’s vision for all in one cohesive computing in favor of essentially being a computer in a sandwich tin. Two kinds of people buy the Mac Mini. The first is the grandma crowd, the casual users who want an inexpensive Mac they can plug into a cheap monitor because they’re on a fixed income or refuse to invest more money in a more elegant product like the iMac. These users could care less that the Mac Mini hasn’t been updated in awhile or has specs from 2012.
But the second group of users who care about the Mac Mini are the geeks and developers who like the flexibility of being able to swap out monitors and peripherals within their multi-computer work and testing environment. These users care very much that the current Mac Mini is severely outdated, and take it personally that Apple treats it like an afterthought. And these were precisely the type of users who were in the WWDC keynote audience on Monday, looking for signs of life from their favorite diminutive Mac model.
In 2013 Apple paid lip service to this crowd by using WWDC to make an extensive preview presentation of the other Mac model aimed squarely at the geek and power-user crowd, the Mac Pro. Ultimately it didn’t matter that the Mac Pro ended up shipping about six months after WWDC came and went. The key was that Apple made a point of feeding the geeks in the room precisely the kind of new hardware they love.
Apple could have done the same this week by making even a passing mention of a new 2014 Mac Mini model during the keynote. The catch of course is that when software and hardware are both presented in the same keynote, the tech press (and thus the public’s attention) tends to focus primarily on the hardware. So the “news” out of WWDC 2014 would have been that Apple “only” introduced a new Mac Mini. By keeping it 100% software, Apple ensured that the headlines were actually about the new software offerings. But it also meant the geeks in the keynote hall departed even more miffed than ever that the Mac Mini is rotting on the vine. Slip out the new Mac Mini 2014 next week or next month and all is forgiven. Wait another year to update the Mini, however, and the Mac geek crowd may well show up to WWDC 2015 with pitchforks in hand.