Apple last updated the Mac mini in October 2012 and even those changes were modest. Since October last year the web has it up with rumours that Apple will be updating the Mac mini soon. It seems logical to expect that Apple will update the unit to the next generation Intel processor, a better graphics processor, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Flash memory and more RAM would also be nice additions. And yet, 17 months after it was last refreshed the Mac mini appears to be caught in suspended animation.
[Read more about the New Mac mini release date]
What's the reason for the hold up? Apple's never been that regimented about its Mac mini upgrade cycle. In the past it's waited a year and a half between update to the system, so this delay may not be a delay at all.
Currently the Mac mini is lagging behind with Intel's old Ivy Bridge processor while every other Mac has switched to Intel's Haswell processor line up. Apple may not be rushing to update the Mac mini to take advantage of Haswell because Haswell doesn't really matter that much to the Mac mini. Haswell improves efficiency, this makes it a great option for Apple's line of MacBooks because it enables better battery life, but obviously battery life is of no significance to the Mac mini.
Why the Mac mini needs Haswell
The new Intel graphics that are integrated in Haswell could improve the Mac mini though. The Mac mini has never boasted the best graphics because Apple has tended to choose low-end, integrated graphics for the unit. When the graphics processor is described as integrated this means it is built into the main CPU and shares the computer's main memory, as opposed to discrete graphics where the graphics processor is completely separate and has its own dedicated memory.
You can expect to get much better graphics performance from discrete graphics, but integrated graphics options have improved over the past few years. For example when we tested the entry-level iMac that launched in September 2013 we were presently surprised to discover just how capable the integrated graphics were. This was the first time Intel graphics could comfortably play games.
With better graphics the Mac mini could morph into a games console, with it's HDMI port enabling users to plug it into an HDTV.
Why Apple shouldn't ignore the Mac mini
The Mac mini is a great little Mac. It is the perfect first Mac for people looking for a low-cost entry point to the world of OS X. It's a popular choice for the heart of a home entertainment centre, with the HDMI port coming into play. It's also an excellent server solution for workgroups.
The Mac mini could also be a great equipment choice for any business looking to update their employee workstations. Starting at £499 currently that's less than half the price of an entry-level iMac (£1,149). You would have to factor the cost of a monitor into the equation, but after buying two Mac minis you'd still have £151 to spend on monitors, so it could still be a pretty savvy way to equip your staff.
However, despite the logic of Apple giving the Mac mini some attention, in ignoring the mini Mac for so long Apple is starting to give the impression that it does not consider it to be important. Perhaps the Mac mini is no longer significant in the scheme of things. We know that Apple sells significantly more laptops than it does desktops. Indeed, the whole PC industry shifts more laptops than desktops. Is Apple wise to more attention away from a Mac model that has a minimum impact on its bottom line?
Maybe the desktops days are numbered and maybe Apple will never update the Mac mini.
Yes, I've said it. Apple might remove the Mac mini from sale.
The last time Apple ended the life of a Mac was the Cube. The G4 Cube was launched in the summer of 2000 and discontinued a year later in July 2001. The Cube looked great, but the problem was its high price and manufacturing issues. In the end Apple just didn't sell enough Cubes and the Mac was discontinued.
Presuming that the Mac mini doesn't make a whole load of money for Apple could Apple discontinue it too?
The problem with making a decision based on the current trends in the market is that nobody knows what is around the corner. We know that tablet are negatively affecting PC sales because people are opting to buy tablets (usually iPads) instead of updating their computers. Wait a few years and could we see the replacement of all laptops with tablets, and a resurgence of desktop computers for the real work? If so we could see a revival of the Mac mini's fortunes in the future.