Apple's Mac mini is the little Mac that could, 15 years later

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It's always been a fan favorite, but 15 years to the day after Steve Jobs announced it, the Mac mini has been through more ups and downs than any other Mac.

Apple's website announces the Mac mini in 2005
Apple's website announces the Mac mini in 2005


Steve Jobs introduced the Mac mini with the explicit aim of attracting Windows switchers. Yet it never quite seemed to do what Apple wanted, and instead became a cult favorite Mac, even when the company has tried to forget about it.

It's the Mac that created an industry of firms that hosted hundreds and thousands of Mac minis for remote users. And it's the entry-level machine that began as the most affordable Mac ever made, and now starts at almost twice the price it did in 2005.

The Mac mini is a beloved part of the Mac lineup, but the 15 years since its announcement have been little short of peculiar.

Launching the Mac mini in January 2005

We think we get a lot of leaks today, but back in late 2004, it was pretty clear that Apple was building up to releasing a new and cheaper Mac.

Perhaps so much so that Steve Jobs didn't dwell quite so long as he usually does on setting the stage for a new product.






During the same announcement where he unveiled the iPod shuffle, Jobs put up a slide with a question.

"I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody asked that," he said. "'Why doesn't Apple offer a stripped-down Mac that is more affordable?'"

With a little tongue in cheek moment, he offered that Apple did precisely that -- and then gave a plug to its now forgotten Xserve servers. These were Macs arranged in racks as servers, oddly just how the Mac mini would later be used itself.

But, he said, people didn't mean servers.

"[This] is not what they have in mind. They want a Mac that's stripped-down, no display, no keyboard and mouse, but they have something else in mind," he continued. "And so today we know what they have in mind, and we're introducing it."

On January 10, 2005, at Macworld, we saw the words "Mac mini" for the first time. Watching the video now, it's apparent that people weren't too sure about the name.

To make sure they knew he was serious, Jobs repeated the name and left it up on the screen, too.

"It's called the Mac mini," he said. "We think people understood the iPod mini, and we think they're going to understand the Mac mini just as well."

To some laughter, he then showed that original Mac mini with an iPod mini in front of it. The Mac mini is wider, but the iPod mini looked like it dwarfed the machine.

"So this is a very robust computer," said Jobs, "but it's very, very tiny."

Nothing comes from nothing

If your first thought about the Mac mini was that it was "very, very tiny," then it's possible your second was that it was the old Power Mac G4 Cube sliced in half.

The Mac mini followed Steve Jobs's aesthetic for that machine, and its name followed the success of the iPod mini.

It also followed the famous Switcher campaign.






If that 2002 ad campaign is remembered very well, it doesn't seem to have been all that effective. It set out to attract Windows PC users and presumably didn't do a brilliant job because Apple dropped the campaign in 2003.

Curiously, Apple's Switch web address is still active, but it now points to a campaign about getting Android users to switch over to iPhone.

So as Apple headed into 2005, it still wanted Windows switchers, and it wasn't getting them. Consequently, Steve Jobs was completely upfront about the mission of the Mac mini.

"We want to price this Mac so that people who are thinking of switching will have no more excuses," he said.

Consequently, the Mac mini was "BYODKM."

"What does that mean?" asked Jobs. "BYODKM. It means Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse. We supply the computer. You supply the rest. So you can take Mac mini, and you can hook it up to let's say our 20-inch Cinema Display, right? And our keyboard and mouse."

"But the great thing about Mac mini is you can hook it up to any industry-standard display, keyboard, and mouse," he continued. "A lot of people already have a display and a USB keyboard and mouse, and so Mac mini will hook up to [those]."

That pricing started at $499, which jobs pointed out several times was the most affordable Mac Apple had ever made. "As a matter of fact, it's the cheapest computer Apple's ever offered."

Applause

The New York Times called it "exceptionally elegant" -- but then the criticism started.

Pretty much universally, the Mac mini was praised for being "very, very tiny," and if people would've liked it to be even cheaper, they didn't grumble too much.

Or rather, they didn't complain a great deal about the price. Where people objected was in the way that Apple included miserly storage and RAM in the base model. Stop us if you've heard this before with a dozen other Apple offerings, but if you bought the $499 entry-level version, you were likely to regret it.

Even though that model came with only a 40GB hard drive, it was the RAM that annoyed most people. You could always upgrade the RAM, but it involved effectively breaking into your Mac mini.

Seriously. You had to get putty knives and wedge them into the case at just the right angle and with only the right force.

Fortunately Apple upgraded it

If you were bracing yourself to slice open your new computer with a blade, though, you could've just waited. Within the first year, Apple updated the Mac mini twice -- and then in 2006, it released an Intel version.

Later in 2006, Apple gave in to how people were using multiple Mac mini machines as servers and released an official server version.

Things were looking pretty good for the Mac mini then. It only got one update in 2007, but, still, this was an ever more popular Mac.

Or so it seemed if you listened to people who had bought and were using them. Mac mini owners were fans, but seemingly there weren't enough of them.

For there was no update and barely any mention of the Mac mini from Apple in 2008.

Fortunately, Apple did turn around in 2009 and released two updates, one early in the year and one later.

The redesigned 2010 Mac mini compared to its predecessor and the then-new Apple TV.
The redesigned 2010 Mac mini compared to its predecessor and the then-new Apple TV.


Then in the middle of 2010, we got a brand-new Mac mini design. The new design was even more "very, very tiny," and looked like the old one sliced in half. It was an aluminum unibody design and came in both a regular and a server version.

AppleInsider noted that Apple was still marketing it as a convenient, compact replacement for PCs. It now wasn't mentioning the word "affordable" quite so often, though, as this edition started at $699.

That's $200 more than it had been, and surely this was a tacit acceptance that trying to sell a "cheap" Mac wasn't working. That sounds like a good problem to have, but seemingly Apple wasn't getting switchers with it, just selling to the already converted Mac fans.

Still, Apple updated it again in mid-2011, and again in late 2012. There was nothing at all new with the Mac mini in 2013, but if you were worrying about the little Mac, 2014 put you right. Briefly.

Revamped for 2014

At last, the Mac mini was updated in 2014. But for the first time, it felt like a cost-cutting exercise -- and perhaps it was.

Apple did drop the price of the entry-level configuration back to $499, but nothing else was very popular. Compared to the 2012 version, the 2014 Mac mini was slower.

AppleInsider described it as having been "generally regarded as a downgrade from the 2012" model, but at least it was better than what happened next.

The wilderness years

There was no update, no change, and not even any alteration to the price of the Mac mini in 2015. Or 2016. Or 2017.

People were noticing, and people were looking at Apple with their arms spread wide as they said, "Well?"

The attention was enough that Tim Cook responded publicly.

Tim Cook responds to Mac mini criticism in 2017
Tim Cook responds to Mac mini criticism in 2017


Phil Schiller also chimed in about the Mac mini when he had intended to talk about the top of the range Mac Pro instead. "The Mac mini is an important product in our lineup," he said. "We weren't bringing it up because it's more of a mix of consumer with some pro use."

As 2018 arrived, though, it was embarrassing. Apple was still selling the Mac mini for the same price, and it was being hammered by PC alternatives. The Mac that had been intended to win people away from Windows was being vastly out-performed by PCs.

AppleInsider laid out the evidence, saying the Mac mini was now being trounced.

Into the light

There's no reason why Apple is obligated to keep making any particular Mac. And there can be many reasons why it shouldn't. Only Apple truly knows how well or poorly the Mac mini sold, and it's up to them whether they continue producing it or not.






Still, by 2018, an entire little industry had grown up around using the Mac mini at the center of hosted services. Hundreds and thousands of Mac minis were on-site at firms selling remote access to them, and all of those hundreds and thousands were becoming less appealing in price and performance.

Whereas the original Mac mini in 2005 was expected, then, the total revamp of it in 2018 was a bigger surprise.

We do note that there wasn't a revision in 2019, so maybe we're back into another fallow period, but the "new" Mac mini is a superb computer.

"Apple's mightiest mini yet," was the headline of the AppleInsider full review in November 2018.

Fifteen years

All these years later, after Steve Jobs announced it on January 10, 2005 -- it would actually ship on January 22 -- the Mac mini has become a mainstay of the range and an absolute favorite Mac.

Or at least it has amongst users. Apple blows hot and cold over it, and it's only the "cheapest Mac" by the slimmest of margins.






The base model starts at $799 and, as ever, what you get for that is not adequate in terms of RAM or storage. Still, upgrading the RAM is now... different. You don't need a putty knife any more, but it's still tricky.

Some things never change.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 53
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 2,275member

    I hope that Apple smartens up and brings the Mac mini pricing back down again. Starting at $999 in Canada for just the computer (no keyboard or monitor) is NOT consumer-friendly pricing!

    The original Mac minis were perfect at $499! But up to $699 would be acceptable, too. 



    (* AppleInsider, please remember you have international readers... include currency when listing prices.)


    edited January 2020 boboliciouskitatitwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 53
    M68000M68000 Posts: 773member
    “I love mine”. How is that for a review?  Have a fusion drive mini and well loaded at around $1500 US- it was worth every penny,  great machine
    edited January 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 53
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,932member
    Have been a purchasing fan of the Mini since the first one. Never minded the RAM "operation" with the putty knives, in reality it wasn't that much different than some of the awful PCs I've worked on years back when I was a tech.

    Still running a newer mini (not the latest) in my media cabinet now, tho running a Plex server and a Windows Server VM is about all I use it for these days. I used to run the Plex client off it outputting to the receiver but with the Apple TV app those days are done.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 53
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,932member


    I hope that Apple smartens up and brings the Mac mini pricing back down again. Starting at $999 in Canada for just the computer (no keyboard or monitor) is NOT consumer-friendly pricing!

    The original Mac minis were perfect at $499! But up to $699 would be acceptable, too. 

    (* AppleInsider, please remember you have international readers... include currency when listing prices.)
    Eh, I think it's known that this is a US-based website, and the assumption by any would be the "$" indicates the local US currency. It's not Canadian dollars nor Australian dollars.
    cornchipfastasleep
  • Reply 5 of 53
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,889administrator

    I hope that Apple smartens up and brings the Mac mini pricing back down again. Starting at $999 in Canada for just the computer (no keyboard or monitor) is NOT consumer-friendly pricing!

    The original Mac minis were perfect at $499! But up to $699 would be acceptable, too. 



    (* AppleInsider, please remember you have international readers... include currency when listing prices.)


    AI is a US publication. When the $ is used, it is always USD, and has always been thus.
    cornchipfastasleepStrangeDays
  • Reply 6 of 53
    rain22rain22 Posts: 132member
    The new ones are very bad value for the money - and who are these for these days?

    - Too expensive/limited as media servers and smarthome hubs.
    - More expensive than iMacs when updated and total cost of ownership.
    - iPads and Laptops are better option for light computing.
    - Schools have fled the ecosystem.
    - Medical offices are dropping them for iMacs.
    - Students need mobile solutions.
    - No expandability

    I'm sure there are niche markets out there, people who just need the OS on a small form factor - but I think the time is coming to an end for this product range - unless Apple cuts the prices drastically. 

    boboliciouskitatitdonjuanAI_lias
  • Reply 7 of 53
    entropysentropys Posts: 4,213member
    Ellen Feiss. Wonder what she is doing now?

    as for the Mac mini, I am at a loss as to why you would release a version of a successful product not as good as the last one, then close down the product development room for years. Then make it expensive. It can’t have been incompetence, it must have been some kind of internal plan to kill it off.
    ”oh look! See no one buys them. Told you. Kill it off”
    edited January 2020 boboliciousWarrenBuffduckhmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 8 of 53
    cashxxcashxx Posts: 114member
    rain22 said:
    The new ones are very bad value for the money - and who are these for these days?

    - Too expensive/limited as media servers and smarthome hubs.
    - More expensive than iMacs when updated and total cost of ownership.
    - iPads and Laptops are better option for light computing.
    - Schools have fled the ecosystem.
    - Medical offices are dropping them for iMacs.
    - Students need mobile solutions.
    - No expandability

    I'm sure there are niche markets out there, people who just need the OS on a small form factor - but I think the time is coming to an end for this product range - unless Apple cuts the prices drastically. 

    I agree with most of what you said except for as a media server!  I still think it is the best solution!  If you have another mac, the ease of screen sharing to the mac mini and openness.  I have various things running like Kodi and stuff for Kodi and have my security cameras going to my mini and love it.  Updates are easy to install and it just runs and keeps on running!  Far more open and easier to update than Firestick devices, Roku, Apple tv's, etc.  Remote in and do what you gotta do and let it do its thing!
    watto_cobraapres587
  • Reply 9 of 53
    FatmanFatman Posts: 513member
    No computer should be sold in 2020 with anything less than a 1TB SSD drive - period. Please manufacturers just stop making anything smaller! Apple are you listening? I looked into the mini ... add a 1TB SSD and you’re now at $1399 - that’s a deal breaker. Ended up buying an iMac on sale for not much more, figured at least I get a nice 5k display out of it (plus the keyboard and mouse) ... but still a lousy 1TB mechanical drive - spin spin noise noise! Cmon do I have to wait until 2025 to get the drive I need at a decent price!
    bsbeamerboboliciouspulseimagesAI_lias
  • Reply 10 of 53
    2011 mini:
    i7 (hyperthreaded)
    gpu (discrete, 4K/2x TB 27" support)
    slotted ram (upgradable, non OEM)
    slotted twin drive bays (upgradable, non OEM)
    clear anodized AL (more wear resistant/sustainable)

    Upgrade speed/cores/specs on this form factor and my wallet will happily open again...
    Please... What am I missing, except maybe a Kensington lock slot ???

    edited January 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 53
    An early 2020 update to the MacMini with Core i9 and 128GB+ RAM options would sell REALLY well... 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 53
    rain22 said:
    The new ones are very bad value for the money - and who are these for these days?

    - Too expensive/limited as media servers and smarthome hubs.
    - More expensive than iMacs when updated and total cost of ownership.
    - iPads and Laptops are better option for light computing.
    - Schools have fled the ecosystem.
    - Medical offices are dropping them for iMacs.
    - Students need mobile solutions.
    - No expandability

    I'm sure there are niche markets out there, people who just need the OS on a small form factor - but I think the time is coming to an end for this product range - unless Apple cuts the prices drastically. 

    This isn't completely wrong but like always, it depends.  I intend to purchase one to replace the 2008 Mac Pro that has been my media server sitting in my basement for some time.  The 2018 i7 Mac Mini runs rings around it and has Thunderbolt 3 which matches to the external storage devices I have.  So is it expensive?  Yes.  But it's worth it to save me a lot of hassle to move it to something else.

    Yes, iPads and Macbooks are better for light computing.  But then again, better to compete against yourself then to give money away to other competitors.

    Schools are either Chromebooks, Macbooks, iPads or iMacs.  Some still buy Mac Minis if they are using external screens or televisions monitors depending on the application.  It's nice to have a choice.

    My dentist has a whole office of brand new iMacs....all running boot camp to get Windows on them.  Sadly, physician practice management software is still largely PC.

    They aren't meant to be expandable except for memory and 64 GB is pretty good for this form factor.
    StrangeDayscgWerkswatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 53
    mobirdmobird Posts: 756member
    I am going to purchase a Mac Mini this year but holding off to see if a update is coming in the first half of 2020. Going to add it to our home theater system as a media server (PLEX) and go from there.
    If there is no update, what would be a good CTO (Configure To Order) Mini to consider with the current offerings from Apple? Any recommendations for must have add-ons?
    edited January 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 53
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,484member
    I have a 2014 Mac Mini with the hard disk drive and 8 GB RAM. It is pathetically slow, nearly unusable with Catalina. The only way I can use this Pathetically Poky Mini productively is to boot from an external SSD connected to one of the USB3 ports. Yeah, I know hard drives are not expected to be speed demons but the one installed in my Poky Mini is ridiculously slow. I’d love to be able to pop the lid, yank out the hardly functional spinner, and pop in an SSD. Ha ha ha. Maybe if I had the dexterity and visual acuity of a brain surgeon I could actually do this, but the gratuitous complexity of what should be a workhorse mid-level personal computer defies such simple logical thinking and utility.

    I wish I knew exactly who Apple is trying to impress with their needless physical design complexity of the Mac Mini. I guess they could have potted the whole interior of the Mini to deter any notion of a self-service device. If that were the case they should have squeezed it into an Apple TV sized unit and dropped the price by 30%. Apple’s design decisions with the Mac Mini were completely self indulgent, self serving, and out of touch with the utilitarian realities of computer users. I would much prefer design strategy more akin to the Intel NUC to meet my needs. The Mac Mini is the hallmark of what happens when designers are motivated by impressing themselves and their peers rather than impressing their customers. And no, customers who need a blade server form factor aren’t going to be particularly impressed with the Mini either. It’s too big and bulky for blade server applications but far too small and needlessly complex and unserviceable for people who expect more than 2 years of productivity from a desktop computer.
  • Reply 15 of 53
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 6,105member
    cashxx said:
    rain22 said:
    The new ones are very bad value for the money - and who are these for these days?

    - Too expensive/limited as media servers and smarthome hubs.
    - More expensive than iMacs when updated and total cost of ownership.
    - iPads and Laptops are better option for light computing.
    - Schools have fled the ecosystem.
    - Medical offices are dropping them for iMacs.
    - Students need mobile solutions.
    - No expandability

    I'm sure there are niche markets out there, people who just need the OS on a small form factor - but I think the time is coming to an end for this product range - unless Apple cuts the prices drastically. 

    I agree with most of what you said except for as a media server!  I still think it is the best solution!  If you have another mac, the ease of screen sharing to the mac mini and openness.  I have various things running like Kodi and stuff for Kodi and have my security cameras going to my mini and love it.  Updates are easy to install and it just runs and keeps on running!  Far more open and easier to update than Firestick devices, Roku, Apple tv's, etc.  Remote in and do what you gotta do and let it do its thing!
    As an owner of a 2018 Mac Mini, I don't really agree with you.  It's a great headless machine for the price considering an iMac with similar specs would run more.  The only thing I don't like about it is the anemic Intel graphics.  It's crap.  I use mine with dual Thunderbolt2 monitors and it's definitely noticeable at times that the graphics can't quite keep up, and I use mine as an office machine.

    Apple could/should have put a decent, discreet GPU in it.  Anything would have been better than the garbage that Intel's offering has.  It's definitely not for anything graphics-intensive.  That being said, I do like it, and yes... it would make an awesome media server.

    My plan is to hopefully buy a 2020 iMac - presuming it's properly redesigned - and either sell my Mac mini, or use it as that media server.  The form-factor is perfect for that.  I can use my existing two monitors and plug my iMac to drive both those monitors for a sweet 3-monitor setup.
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 16 of 53
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,440member
    dewme said:
    I have a 2014 Mac Mini with the hard disk drive and 8 GB RAM. It is pathetically slow, nearly unusable with Catalina. The only way I can use this Pathetically Poky Mini productively is to boot from an external SSD connected to one of the USB3 ports. Yeah, I know hard drives are not expected to be speed demons but the one installed in my Poky Mini is ridiculously slow. I’d love to be able to pop the lid, yank out the hardly functional spinner, and pop in an SSD. Ha ha ha. Maybe if I had the dexterity and visual acuity of a brain surgeon I could actually do this, but the gratuitous complexity of what should be a workhorse mid-level personal computer defies such simple logical thinking and utility.

    I wish I knew exactly who Apple is trying to impress with their needless physical design complexity of the Mac Mini. I guess they could have potted the whole interior of the Mini to deter any notion of a self-service device. If that were the case they should have squeezed it into an Apple TV sized unit and dropped the price by 30%. Apple’s design decisions with the Mac Mini were completely self indulgent, self serving, and out of touch with the utilitarian realities of computer users. I would much prefer design strategy more akin to the Intel NUC to meet my needs. The Mac Mini is the hallmark of what happens when designers are motivated by impressing themselves and their peers rather than impressing their customers. And no, customers who need a blade server form factor aren’t going to be particularly impressed with the Mini either. It’s too big and bulky for blade server applications but far too small and needlessly complex and unserviceable for people who expect more than 2 years of productivity from a desktop computer.
    I swapped the HD for an SSD in a 2014 mini a few months ago, it took like 30 minutes. Not sure what you're afraid of, but it's really not that hard.

    https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Mac+mini+Late+2014+Hard+Drive+Replacement/32815

    StrangeDaysmuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 53
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,440member
    My Late 2009 mini is still chugging along as my media/file server at home. Occasionally has been my work backup machine (booted off a FW800 backup in a toaster enclosure) when my MBP has been in the shop. :D

    Also, any Front 242 fans on here remember this from the original mini landing page?


    SoliStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 53
    citpekscitpeks Posts: 247member
    How can any AI retrospective of the life of the mini not include this piece?


    Complete with graphic evoking this moment:




    fastasleep
  • Reply 19 of 53
    I’m still running one of the oldies, with CD-slot, a bit revamped with a SSD and maxed memory, on Catalina! To put in in Catalina it took me one hour, working with a clever patch of DosDude1. Not editing movies on it, but anything else still feels very okay.
    fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 53
    Just upgraded the RAM in a lower end G4 Mac Mini a couple of days ago. A customer gave it to me and after I reformatted the drive and reinstalled Mac OS 10.4 onto it I’m using it to covert VHS tapes and reel to reel tapes to a digital format. Much more useful than the 2015 MacBook I have!
    watto_cobra
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