Is Apple Planning A "Mac Nano?"

A Chinese company says it's producing a case for an upcoming iPhone Nano. Bits of code inside the latest version of OS X suggest a new Mac Mini. Are they one in the same?

Apple [AAPL] has been mum about both rumors. But XSKN, a manufacturer of rubberized protective cases, has been right about forthcoming Apple gadgets before; the company's product line successfully predicted both the iPhone 3G and the iPod Touch. Now XSKN is selling a case for an "iPhone Nano" that it says will have a 2.75-inch screen and no 3G wireless. Judging by XSKN's image, the iPhone Nano would look like a thicker, broader version of the current iPod Nano.

Of course, this doesn't make sense with what we know about Apple.

First there's the issue of network speeds. Why would Apple take a step backwards and offer a 2G phone? The whole purpose of the iPhone 3G, the first truly usable Web-integrated mobile phone, was to take advantage of 3rd-party apps that seamlessly and speedily connect to the Internet. At this point, a 2G iPhone wouldn't be an iPhone at all, because it would render a lot of the app store programs frustratingly slow. Another 2G iPhone would be a step backwards.

And so what if it's cheaper? The iPhone isn't that expensive to begin with. If you deem $200 too much for a smartphone, then you can knock it down to $150 just by getting a refurbished model. Every other smart device out there — G1, BlackBerry, HTC Touch Pro — is at least that expensive. If you still think that's still too much, you probably don't really need a smartphone.

Assuming it would fit into Apple's current iPhone price structure ($300 for the 16GB, $200 for the 8GB), the iPhone Nano would come in at $100 for a 4GB device — and that's counting the subsidy you'd get from buying a 2-year plan from AT&T [ATT]. $100 plus a 2-year contract for a 4GB media player with 2G Internet access? That's a crappy deal, considering an iPod Nano is only $150 at 8GB, and doesn't require you shell out $75 a month to AT&T.

The other big Apple rumor this week is concerned with a new Mac Mini, Apple's long-neglected bare-bones computer. The last time the Mac Mini was updated, Barack Obama was still a long-shot senator from Illinois; many rumor sites have proclaimed the Mini dead. But Macrumors has discovered strings of code in the most recent version of OS X that refer to a Mac Mini version called "3,1," which doesn't yet exist.

Could the new Mac Mini and the "iPhone Nano" be the same device?

Imagine a palm-top CPU with a notebook graphics card and a system-on-a-chip operating system — think of it like an iPhone with supercharged graphics. It would have a WiFi chip, run the iPhone version of OS X, and pack, say, 16GB of solid-state memory. It would have a multi-connector dock that could link it to a display and to USB peripherals, but it would also have a small display that would allow you to use it stand-alone to play videos and music. Of course, it wouldn't have wireless broadband, since it wouldn't be tied to a carrier — hence XKSN's claim that it has no 3G wireless. It's not a Mac Mini, or an iPhone Nano. It's the Mac Nano.

It could do all the duties of a portable media player, but also power a full-sized screen and do basic Internet surfing, email, games, and anything that its 3rd-party apps allow it to do. It could hold plenty of music, a smattering of documents and photos, and even a movie or two. Sure, it's no MacBook, but for a price of about $500, you could have your Mac and your media anywhere.

Will Apple take the Mac Nano plunge? Only Macworld will tell.

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  • Ashley Grayson

    I predicted about a year ago that Apple would eventually offer a iPod Touch family device about 6x9 which would enable it to be a comfortable e-book reader. I still hope that January's products will include one. A 6x9 iPod could easily run the iPhone's multi-touch interface and even some OS X apps in your palm. I guess a big iPod touch could visit on the desktop, but then it would need to connect to all three of the new LED display cables.

    Apple portable devices alway add or maintain a key use factor. An iPod touch that is bigger but adds the ability to read text, and run some OS X apps in your hand builds in the Apple way.

    But nothing the size of the rumored iPhone nano makes sense. A small screen iPhone nano sized device reduces the multi-touch experience and adds no new function.

    I'm also a big fan of the Mac mini as an ideal small business server. I run OS X Server on a first generation mini in our office and would happily have a new generation.

    However I can't see the two together.

    Apple might be able to make a tiny Mac mini but to make it the size of of the rumored iPhone nano
    would constrain the storage and connectivity possibilities too much.

    This doesn't make sense.