What Would You Pay for a Low-End Mac?

by Chris Howard Oct 22, 2008

In days of yore, last century, last millenium, Apple had a reputation of selling expensive computers that were out of reach of the budget of the common man. Even the early iMacs were no gimme for the low end. However, early this millenium Apple finally satiated many folks' desire for a low-end Mac with the Mac mini.

But it has languished of recent times, forgotten, neglected. And now speculation is as strong as ever it will be dropped altogether. With this and other recent events, you must start to wonder if Apple if abandoning the Mums and Dads (ok, Moms in Americanese).

In July, Apple's Chief Financial Officer, Peter Oppenheimer, hinted Apple was on the verge of introducing something significant that would reduce Apple's bottomline but was obviously worth it. (On yesterday's there was in fact no decrease in profit margins to speak of.) Maybe it was really the cutting of the Mac mini and losing all that market... Although you'd think that wouldn't be as significant as Oppenheimer alluded - and anyway, when a company cuts a product line, it wwangles the books so it looks like it's better for the bottom line.

Without any evidence, as this is still speculation, all that can be said is, "Apple, please don't drop the Mac mini!"

I'd love to see a show of hands of people whose first Mac was a mini and that led them to other more expensive Macs.

It's also possible new low-end Macs are in the pipeline, and that is what Oppenheimer was referring too. But that bothers me if the there is a cost hit is because of some fancy-pants, show-off engineering. Maybe though, it will simply be very agressive pricing.

With the world lurching towards a financial recession of some sort or other, is it wise for Apple to return to its roots, return to the safety of its high place?

You can argue all you like about the Mac mini not selling sufficiently to warrant keeping it, but the argument flows the other way too, that is that Apple has done little to help it survive. Of course, one thing that's always hurt the Mac mini is the crappy onboard graphics. Nowadays that shouldn't be the case.

Steve said something interesting in the quarterly results conference call Q&A when someone asked if we'd see cheaper Macs:

We chose not to server a certain customer base. We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk. Our DNA will not allow us to ship that. We can continue to deliver value to customers we do choose to serve.

Come on, what koolaid drinking Mac fanboi is going to believe the almighty Apple can't make a decent device no matter what the market? I for one don't buy it. Steve keeps raving about his talented engineers and designers, but they don't have the talent to build a decent low-end Mac? Get out! Interesting too he suggests that price point, as the current Mac mini starts at $599, so is he suggesting it's bordering on being junk?

As I said last week, if Apple would compromise on clevereness and industrial design, it could make a cheap Mac that would still look damn good and not sacrifice quality of parts or technology.

Sorry, Steve, that one's a cop out. Give us a reason not an excuse.

However, you can understand Apple not wanting to get caught in a dog fight for the low-end dollar. Yet it's not that Apple would have to build a piece-of-junk $500 Mac, it's that it would have to cut its margins more than it wants to.

So a reason would be more like "The low-end of the market is so cutthroat, with vendors working off tiniest margins, it's not economically viable to compete there."

See, that wasn't so hard. Now you say it, Steve smile

But Steve, please don't kill off the Mac mini. Cut it back to one choice only if you like and at the higher pricepoint, but give it decent graphics and I reckon you'll sell enough to keep it viable. And you know what? We're not actually after a $500 computer. We just want something decent that costs a lot less than the low-end iMac, which currently stands at $1199.

It seems too that I'm not the only one concerned about losing the Mac mini. My favourite pop poll, MacRumors, has folks voting 11 to 1 against this (556 negative to 48 positive as I write).

So let's help Steve out. What do you think? What would you be prepared to pay for a low-end Mac or MacBook mini that wasn't a "piece of junk"? Would $700 be a fair price point?


  • Totally agree. I think it’s almost a sign of elitism that Apple won’t make an affordable computer. With good marketing, the Macmini could easily sell, as well as a $600-$700 notebook.

    Bakari had this to say on Oct 22, 2008 Posts: 37
  • The Mac mini was my first in years.  Without that product in the line-up, it would certainly have taken longer for me to get a Mac.

    Almost everything on the Mac is off-shelf stuff except the logic board and the case.  There are certainly alternatives out there to be had that are as reliable and a lot cheaper.

    So the only real stumbling block is the case.  And in Jobs’s mind, aesthetics are more important than anything else.  So if they can’t pack the off-the-shelf stuff into a slick case for $500, then they simply can’t make a $500 computer.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Oct 22, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • Apple is smart not to engage in a “race to the bottom” with commode-box makers. There is no upside for them in that space. None. That’s why they don’t make anything for large-scale point-of-sale (POS) operations, either. Margins aren’t just razor thin in that space, they’re actually non-existent. Those $399 specials are usually there just to get folks to the store so they can upsell them something that will actually turn some coin. But they’re loss leaders, by and large.

    Apple has a market cap, today, even with all the fiscal problems out there, of over $85 billion. That’s 4 times that of Dell, the biggest commode-box maker, just slightly less than HP, and just over half that of IBM. They have no debt, and $25 billion cash in the bank. Why risk the farm trying to crank out cheap Macs at a loss, in hopes of some halo effect? Vaporware.

    tao51nyc had this to say on Oct 22, 2008 Posts: 45
  • My very first Mac was a G4 Mac mini I bought on Amazon.com “just to see” how I like it.  I now have a MacBook, a Time Capsule, 2 mighty mice, two Apple keyboards, 2 iPod nanos, and and iPod Touch. I plan on buying an iMac for the kids and a MacBook Pro ( the wife will get the current MacBook ) as soon as I get my spring bonus.

    Had it not been for the Mac mini I would never have discovered OS X.

    Khürt Williams had this to say on Oct 22, 2008 Posts: 45
  • Nothing, I don’t want a low end Mac.

    Parky had this to say on Oct 22, 2008 Posts: 51
  • The mini is so damn practical, many people i know install them as entertainment center controllers in the living room and bedrooms. The mini is good enough to drive the whole shebang as in DVD playing, iTunes HD movies, AC3/DTS audio, BT movie downloads (with good HD 720/180p bitrates mind you), kids’ toy PC, or wherever a miniscule Mac would fit in.

    Now, where is the predicted “bottom line” dent from the latest Macbooks? None of them lowered the old price tiers except the old tired white MB @ $999. Pleazze! There is got to be more than the “milling cost of the aluminum block” to lower your margins, Steve.

    So, show us those kick-a$$ iMacs, minis, and AppleTV 3s with lower prices then I believe you. Else, you are starting to sound and look like those monopolists from Redmond. It is not about the Mac faithful - it is all about the $$B’s to add to the cash hoard.

    Robomac had this to say on Oct 22, 2008 Posts: 846
  • Part of the Apple brand is producing quality products. A BMW is still a car, just like a Chevy, but people are willing to pay more to get the quality of a BMW. Even if the there is only the perception of quality. Which is better for a companies bottom line, either sell a billion of an item and only make on dollar per unit, or to sell a hundred million and make ten dollars per unit?

    flyboy had this to say on Oct 22, 2008 Posts: 30
  • I’m still prepared to pay a premium for quality. But I believe if Apple still wants to make its usual margins, it could charge $700 to $800, forgo a bit of clever engineeering, and still give us a decent Mac mini or MacBook mini.

    And we’d still buy it.

    As Beeb and Khürt illustrate, the low-end Mac is a great way to introduce people to Macs. So even if it is a narrow margin, the long term benefits are worth it.

    Apple already practices this with the iTMS which isn’t about making money off the songs sold, but by selling iPods.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Oct 23, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • There are applications for the mini Apple probably doesn’t even consider.

    I use mac minis where I work for touch-screen kiosks. They are awesome! 

    They can be put in a smallish cabinet, they don’t throw a lot of heat so there are no melt downs, they are easily ported from one location to another without breaking one’s back, and best of all they allow me to run a stable OS. Plus I can use Apple’s remote desktop to manage them all!

    I would not be using Apple for my kiosks if I had to lug around a Mac Pro… no way. Besides I simply do not need that kind of computing power, nor the cost.

    My next best option would be a MacBook.  Kind of a waste to stick a laptop in a cabinet for a kiosk. 

    Again, the Mini fits my needs EXACTLY.

    heres2u had this to say on Oct 23, 2008 Posts: 6
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