If you’ve been around the Apple scene for any period of time, you’ve probably learned about two of the best resources out there for finding out more about your Mac: Mactracker and the MacRumors Buyer’s Guide. Between those two places, you’ll learn what Macs you should buy and when, discover specifics about an older Mac and so much more. Heck, Mactracker helped me ID a Power Macintosh 9500 sitting around my friend’s office the other day.
Which is why, while watching the recent Apple Event, I started thinking about how long it’s been since the Mac mini has seen an update. And then when Phil Schiller said about hardware, specifically the Mac Pro. So what was this throw-away comment and what does it mean for the Mac mini? Let’s talk it out.
“Simply put, you cannot put a hard drive in anymore that is as fast as Flash.”
As far as I can tell, there are two currently shipping models of Macs that come with traditional spinning hard drives: the iMac and the Mac mini. The iMac is super thin on its edges, and bulges out towards the center to accommodate two things: the processor and the hard drive. Although engineers at Apple did take advantage of that space by making better speakers and the like, it seems to me that if hard drive thickness stopped being a limitation, the iMac could get to be laptop thin (making it bulkier on the edges than it is today, but still).
Now apply that quote to the Mac mini. This is not meant to be a powerhouse like the iMac. The mini is more of an introductory Mac — the easy entry-level Mac that people buy when they want to try out the platform and already have a keyboard and mouse. Expectations are low, and no one expects to buy it with a three terabytes worth of storage. Although they’re very capable machines, the point is that they could be more efficient. With Flash memory, that could radically change the game.
No bones about it, Apple wants to convert all of its computers to Flash, and why wouldn’t they? Not only can they then control their own supply (they purchased a company that builds Flash a few years ago), but it’s better for their customers. It’s already in all of their laptops, and even when they had a product that could (and arguably should) have traditional storage — the Mac Pro — they went with Flash. This transition is happening, it’s just a matter of when.
But Wait, There’s More
You can plunk an SSD into the Mac mini today with the help of a few aftermarket components. You can even double up on SSDs if you like, because there’s room for two drives in the current-gen mini. But neither of those options are Flash in the Apple sense of the word, which mean that there’s room for improvement.
Take away the extra space, throw the spinning platter hard drive in the recycle bin and you’ve got a ton more real estate to work with inside the Mac mini. Or keep the hard drive and go vertical with it like the current Time Capsule, and maybe use some of the technology found in the Mac pro to keep it cool. You have lots of options.
All this says to me — particularly when combined with Schiller’s quote about Flash — that the next mini is going to be a major upgrade in both speed and form factor. Maybe it goes as small as the current AppleTV, or turns into a smaller version of the new Mac pro. Further solidifying this theory, the current-gen mini is now over a year old. It’s been 377 days since the last model came out, and in Apple terms, that’s right in the wheelhouse for an upgrade (the iMac updates on average every 333 days, the Air at 340). Why a new one wasn’t announced a few weeks ago has yet to be explained, but I’d expect a mini any day now.
Does it Matter?
Look, there are absolutely no rumors around about the next Mac mini having Flash, and this is all speculation. But it makes sense. Although the Mac mini is a niche product, and although it’s used for servers, colocation and other very serious projects, it’s still Apple’s low-end Mac. It’s the gateway to OS X and a cheap way to discover the platform — and it’s also quite stale. Wouldn’t it be great if it was substantially faster and still affordable? It’s time to reset the platform with some new innovations.
We’re getting a new Mac mini sometime soon, you can be sure of that. And when it comes, my fingers are crossed that my theories come true.