iPod mini Preview

Apple’s iPod has been a phenomenal success, easily leading the high-capacity digital-music player market. It’s as much the MP3 standard-bearer as Sony’s Walkman was for portable cassette and CD players. Its 30 per cent market-share is simply amazing, especially as it started as a Mac-only product.

Nobody has ever accused the iPod of being cheap. Even today, prices range from £249 (15GB capacity) to £399 (40GB). Rumours before Macworld Expo San Francisco claimed Apple was to launch a super-cheap model for under £100. So when the company did announce its 4GB iPod mini, there was open-mouthed shock that it cost £199 – just £50 less than the lowest-priced iPod, which boasts nearly four times the capacity.

Apple is positioning the mini against the 20 per cent of the market that the iPod is priced out of. Its competition is largely made up of players based on low-capacity flash-memory rather than the iPod and mini’s tiny hard drive, although a few other disk-based players do exist. The main competitors are Creative, Rio and Sony.

The mini’s form factor will appeal to those who demand ultra portability and the best user interface in the business. The iPod is small, but is still a little chunky for gym and jogging situations. It’s a bit like comparing a compact mobile phone with a domestic cordless model. And like a mobile, you can buy the mini in different colours. We’ll go into a lot more depth about the mini’s technical details nearer the time of its April release date. For the purposes of this preview, we’ll concentrate on the mini’s most contentious figure: its “high” price.

The closest MP3 player to the mini is Creative’s MuVo2, which also packs a 4GB hard disk. It costs £280. The 1.5GB MuVo costs the same as the mini, £199. For £189 the MuVo2 X-Trainer – just 10 grammes lighter than the mini – has an anorexic 512MB capacity, which is enough for a mere 270 songs. If you want something cheaper the best option from Creative is the MuVo NX, which costs £120 but can hold a pathetic 30 MP3s. At £199 the 1,000-song 4GB iPod mini is easily the best value out there for this lower-capacity market. Surprised? I thought so.

The iPod mini is too expensive only when compared to Apple’s own iPod, which in the light of these price comparisons actually appears something of a bargain. The sweetest choice is the £299 20GB iPod, which includes £87 worth of extras that the 15GB model doesn’t ship with. If you can live without a dock, carry-case and wired remote, the 15GB is terrific value in today’s market.

Everyone’s up in arms about the £199 price purely as a reaction to the £99 rumours. You can see why Apple is so paranoid about such ill-informed gossip.


Apple’s mini misses the masses who want to spend less than £100 on a digital-music player. For the moment these people are stuck with their portable CD players. Instead, the iPod mini will hook people who want the smallest possible device with a capacity of at least 1,000 songs. Prices will eventually fall, but until then digital music on the move remains available only to those willing to spend a little more for the best.

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