Apple unveils CD-sized mini Mac, one ounce iPod

Cheap shouldn't mean nasty

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Macworld ThinkSecret’s pseudonymous hero 'Nick DePlume' may have earned a lawsuit for his troubles, but his predictions proved to be spot-on. Apple launched a $499 Mac, a revamped SoHo office suite called iWork at MacWorld today, and confirming reports from last Fall, a Flash-based iPod mini.

Mac mini

The only surprise, and it’s a pleasant one, is the form factor of the new low-end Mac. At about the size of a CD box set (6.5”x 6.5” x 2”) and reminiscent of the iPod dock, the discreet Mac mini is eminently portable. The $499 model has a 40GB hard disk, a slot-loading CD burner, a 1.25Ghz G4 processor, a Radeon 9200 card with 32MB of RAM, and will be bundled with iLife 05: iPhoto, iTunes and the Garageband music sequencer. Video output supports both VGA and DVI interfaces. FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 are supported, but Bluetooth and 802.11 wireless, are only optional, alas, and must be specified at time of purchase. As we speculated yesterday, a headless Mac is crying out for a wireless keyboard. A faster Mac mini with an 80GB disk will also be available for $599 and both ship in eleven days time.

Round the back - the Mac mini

iWork '05 features a Microsoft Word-compatible word processor called Pages and an updated presentation package Keynote.

Apple's new tiny solid-state iPod, the iPod Shuffle, is more of a curiosity. It weighs only one ounce and has no display, and is priced at $99 for 512MB or $149 for 1GB. Apple hopes that iTunes users will have a list of "today's favourites" which they'll want to take with them, but will change frequently. So 'iPod Cache' or 'iPod On The Go' are equally appropriate.

It's not a bad assumption, and it certainly makes sense to capitalize on both the iPod's name recognition, and Apple's own synchronization software, which is head and shoulders above its rivals. The risk is diluting the brand. The iPod earned its reputation by being the jukebox that carries all your music ("Five thousand songs in your pocket"), in comparison to low-cost, low-capacity flash players which only carry a few songs. Apple must be hoping that there's a substantial market of potential customers who'd like an iPod, but can't tell the difference between the two.

Recent price cuts on displays led many to expect new monitor options, and the widely rumored PowerBook updates remain on ice. And the verdict?

Apple declined to relay a live video stream, and forbade attendees from transmitting from the auditorium. But punters at the Apple Store in San Francisco, who enjoyed a blackout-busting video stream looked happy. Jobs cruelly reminded viewers of last year's snoozathon, which featured almost an hour of Garageband demos, by inviting John Maher on stage. But his appearance was brief, and in terms of products, there was more steak than sizzle. With its entry into two low cost markets it has previously disdained, Apple must prove that cheap doesn't mean nasty. It might just work. ®

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