Apple has just lavished attention on its smallest Mac, the Mini, and now the tiny beast is smaller, more powerful and HDMI-capable. And it provides a preview of what Apple's other media box, the Apple TV, might be like—if Jobs and Co. ever bother to update it.
The back panel completely betrays the intended purpose of the new Mini: It's got an HDMI socket. It's the first Mac to get this power, and it bows to the fact that many consumers used the older Minis as a potent home theater PC. It also completely agrees with a rumor we'd thought sounded real just before last week's WWDC keynote.
The Mac Mini has long had a tiny form-factor and an aluminum body. But the new one is even tinier at just 1.4-inches tall compared to the older machine's towering 2-inch stature. Squeezing all that computer into the case, including the power supply for the first time, involved some pretty clever thinking, so the machine has a circular flap on the base that lets you access the memory slots. There are just four USB ports on the back now, but the array is joined by an SD card slot as on the MacBooks, as well as Ethernet and a mini display port. Inside there's a 2.4GHz or 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo chip, Nvidia's new powerful GeForce 320M graphics module and Apple's usual superdrive for DVD access (no Blu-ray folks!).
Apple's teasing the new machine as the "world's most energy efficient desktop machine," and notes that when it's idle it sups just 10W from the mains electricity—"something no other desktop can do." This tweak, along with the redesign and uprated guts means its entry price has risen from $599 to $699. The Mini server remains in the redesigned range too, without a superdrive, and at the same entry price of $999.
But here's the thing: We learned recently that Apple was deep the throes of an Apple TV make-over. With the new Mini now sporting an HDMI socket, is there space in the market for an all-new Apple TV? You bet. This redesign gives away a lot about what it'll be like too. If you ditch the superdrive from the new Mini, dump all but one USB socket, keep the power supply inside, replace the hard drive with a tiny SSD (or even the same flash RAM that the iPhones use), keep the audio ports, replace the Intel chip with an Apple A4 CPU running iOS4, then you'll have a super-slim aluminum box that's roughly matching the specs we'd heard about.
Such a small machine could be as slim as 0.5-inches tall, perfect for a set-top box, and the lower component count combined with component similarity with the iPhone/iPad and the common chassis-manufacturing trick with the Mini could even keep the price low. Dare we imagine $200 or less? That would explain why the full desktop-experience PC Mac Mini has been priced upwards, preserving a low price bracket for the new, simpler, consumer-friendly iOS-powered TVs (which could possibly come with a range of internal memory sizes ... we don't buy the notion the new Apple TV won't have much internal storage).