Apple's mini plans ready for the big time

The future is here now, it is just unevenly distributed, according to Apple UK's managing director Mark Rogers. Will the Mac mini redress the balance?

Mark Rogers is the UK managing director for Apple. ZDNet caught up with him at London's British Education and Training Technology Show (BETT) to discuss the Mac mini, which made its UK public debut at the event this week.

Q: Why the Mac mini?
A: One perception is that Apple is expensive, and this finally puts that perception to bed. The launch means that if you are really interested in getting on the Apple Mac platform there is now a low cost way of doing so. We wanted to come out with something that was good value for money but from a design perspective maintained the ease of use that Apple is known for. When you look at it it is very Mac, very Apple. It is by far the best entry-level computer we think we can make right now. It is a small form factor PC and powerful at an affordable price, and it means you don't have to throw away your investment in your existing peripherals. While the eMac was also an entry-level machine it still had a screen, which made it less attractive to people .

The argument that Apple should license its operating system or port it to x86 architecture is as old as the Mac. How well does this launch speak to that debate?
Why would we want to port when we are able to do such a good job on our own platform? The danger is that when you go out and license to other people you lose control of the design. Control is what enables us to create the Mac mini – the technology that goes into that is extreme, and a tremendous group of individuals worked on that product.

The key thing for us is to keep innovating. If you try to bring too many companies together it doesn’t work, and that is the problem with the PC world. When everybody else in the industry was cost-cutting, we were investing more and more money in R&D. The overall design team is some 2,500-strong.

Many people will recall Intel’s 'PC fashion shows' at its developer forums, where it shows of computers concepts from design houses. None ever come to market, which is probably a good thing.
Their designers can draw a great picture, but can anybody actually manufacturer it and sell it, and make it useable? We are probably the only company able to design the complete system -- software and hardware -- and sell it. We are constantly in development, and constantly thinking about the next product. We do come up with ideas and concepts that never come to fruition, but that is because we are very careful to only bring great designs that people will want to market.

We don't just bring things out because somebody in IT likes the idea.

How many Mac minis do you expect to sell?
We can't say, and the challenge is that we really just don't know. Our latest financial results show a very strong growth in the iMac line, that demonstrates that if we create great products people will buy them. We sold 4.5 million iPods last quarter – when we originally brought them out we had no idea we could sell those numbers.

What sort of market share do you think this will enable for Apple?
We have no real targets. We have been growing, but you find that market shares are extremely influenced by public sector purchasing, where we expect to sell well. I'm not getting hung up over 0.1 percent. We've just doubled revenue to $3.5bn, which is a seventy-something percent growth, so I'm not too worried.

But a significant part of that was due to the iPod. Don’t you have similar aspirations for the PC side?
We'll see. But we're not overly worried.

Do you see a place for the Mac mini in regular IT department purchasing plans?
Why not? It is a great opportunity to keep your investment in your flat screen monitor. And throw away your PC to get something more elegant and save some desk space. Interoperability is all there now.

Also, it will probably fall below most people’s capital expenditure requirements, so they can probably just expense them, meaning you can now buy Macs without going through a large purchase acquisition.

So who do you expect will buy the Mac mini?
Anybody who wants that low cost entry point into the Mac platform. Consumers, educational institutions, schools and companies too. Our core focus to begin with is schools and education markets. If you want a Mac for video production in a classroom, any school can now buy one for £300 (with the educational discount). Everybody is talking about creativity in the classroom. We have the software, but needed a cheaper platform to run it on, as that has been a stumbling block.

There is immense price competition on hardware. Dell is very aggressive there, so we see this as our answer to that.

Also you could carry this around in a bag it is that small. All you need it to make sure the screen, keyboard and mouse are already there at your destination.

Education is hugely important for us, it is in our DNA. The [education] minister talked yesterday about the importance of IT across the curriculum. Well we have worked really hard of the past years to make it work. The future is here now, it is just unevenly distributed.

Finally, a lot of people are understandably worried about upgrade options on the Mac mini and just how permanent decisions at the point of purchase are. Can you clarify this?
You will be able to upgrade to Bluetooth and Airport with kits after purchase, and take it in to a Mac authorised reseller for memory upgrades. The optical drive will not be an upgrade option, so whatever you specify at the point of purchase you'll be stuck with. Of course at this price, you'll be able to just buy a new computer when you're ready to upgrade.

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