Once again, Apple’s announcements at San Francisco’s Macworld Expo were aimed at the consumer market rather than creative professionals and Mac experts who have to wait till the mid-year Worldwide Developers Conference and a few ad-hoc events to hear what Apple has in store for them. Of course, many Mac pros are also eager customers of the company’s consumer products, so they weren’t left empty-handed. Indeed, straight after the Steve Jobs keynote I dashed to the nearby Apple retail store to join the queue for the first iPod shuffles.

(Actually, immediately after the keynote I was leaving my prestigious second-row seat only to be hurled into Apple CEO Jobs by the burly form of his fellow Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak – a privilege that is surely worthy of its own Web site. In 1988 I had the similar honour of dual-celebrity violence when John McEnroe smashed me in the face with a wild back-hand fist while Tatum O’Neal took his photo in the middle of Venice’s Piazza San Marco.)

The shuffle is an interesting take on an entry-level flash-based player, lacking the screen and user interface that made the iPod what it is today. Many critics have poured scorn on this non-feature, but forget that ye-olde portable cassette and CD players told us no more than the track number, and maybe how many more tracks were available to play. And the littlest iPod isn’t just a shuffler – it will work methodically through a playlist just like any other iPod if you want it to;
a fact neglected by the machine’s decriers.

We’ve had Apple’s other miniature new product in the Macworld labs for a week or so, and have had much nervous fun taking the Mac mini to pieces – something Apple is so keen to discourage that you just have to start dismantling it component by component. Most mini owners needn’t ever open it up for inspection or upgrade – so long as they order it with at least 512MB of memory installed (an extra £50).

Since 1999’s rainbow-coloured iMacs it’s been extremely easy to get into and rummage around inside Apple’s Macs. The original Bondi Blue iMac wasn’t so simple, as you had to pull out huge chunks of gear just to get at the memory slots. But at least all you needed was a decent selection of screwdrivers. The Mac mini would perturb even Bodyworks’ Dr Gunther von Hagens.

Before beginning surgery you must first read Apple’s excellent Mac mini User Guide to learn that there are no “user-accessible parts”. Then you need to scour the Internet to find out how the user can access the parts. After this, and a quick shot of brandy, it’s time to get your old toolbox from the shed – not your computer-repair tool box, but the one that’s full of bent screwdrivers, dud fuses, hundreds of odd screws, and at least a dozen old allen keys from Habitat and Ikea.

Don’t worry, you’re not after a hammer and chisel. What you need is one of those flat, flexible palette knives you use for smoothing putty or filler. Don’t use your scraping knife that’s covered in dried white gunk. Nip down to the local DIY store to buy a nice new one – you’ll also find that it’s better at levelling polyfilla than your cacky old unwashed tools next time you notice a crack in your plaster.

Setting this tool next to the mini looks almost obscene. It’s as though you’ve been asked to comb your hair with a garden rake, clean your teeth with a broom, or cut your nails with shears.

As we began our Mac mini dissection a crowd gathered round to watch the anatomy lesson unfold. There were gasps and hands to mouths when we first slid the crude builder’s tool into the pristine underside of Jonathan Ive’s miracle of miniaturization. Macworld’s art editor looked ready to faint. But after some hesitant bending and grimace-inducing prising, out popped the innards of Apple’s latest baby. Performing the procedure again was easy, but no one should ever have to open a mini more than once – and shouldn’t really ever have to open it up in the first place, unless that 512MB of RAM you sensibly ordered at timeof purchase proves insufficient for your memory needs.

Apple’s January announcements throw up a number of possibilities for the company over 2005. After the iPod came the hugely successful iPod mini, so after the Mac mini can we expect a Mac shuffle? This new breed of Macintosh would be small enough to wear on a belt-clip and boast full G3 power. The Mac shuffle will rearrange your Dock items to make you think about using stuff you haven’t double-clicked for years. Desktop patterns and iLife apps would also shuffle. Today, your Mac suggests you make an iMovie, tomorrow mix a track in GarageBand, and the day after is time to burn a DVD.

While the Expo announcements were consumer led, Apple has sneaked pro-level features into things that previously shunned complexity. iLife gave ‘the rest of us’ the ability to create movies, photo books, DVDs and music just like the professionals – the only thing we needed to know how to use was a mouse. The most complex terminology involved was the word OK in a pulsing Aqua bubble.

But the designers of iLife ’05 have decided that we’re ready to take the next step. iLife isn’t kids’ stuff any more. iPhoto doesn’t just have a one-hit Enhance tool or simple Redeye corrector. Version 5 has an arsenal of Photoshop-like tools that will make your digital snaps the envy of your blurry, wonky Windows mates. But granny’s going to think a trip to the hospital’s in order when it tells her she needs a histogram.

While including something as simple to grasp as the Magic iMovie tool, Apple adds complexity by taking the latest version of its movie maker into the pro world of High Definition. Apple needs to rethink some of this arcane terminology if iLife is to remain more accessible than the innards of a Mac mini. While Mac experts also use Apple’s consumer stuff, the expected hordes of mini Mac users won’t take kindly to having to become experts. MW