It went like this: the new Apple HDTV (my name) would be a smaller $99 device that ran iOS with no local storage. Yup, everything would be stored on the cloud.
The lore had it that the new Apple TV would be based on Apple's A4 chip and include 16GB of flash memory. Ever the minimalists, the new Apple set top box would only have two ports, power and video out. But a kick ass video out at that, sporting 1080p (high-definition) output presumably via a HDMI or (more likely) a Mini DisplayPort. Some referred to it as "an iPhone without a screen." (Since I doubt that it would make phone calls, an "iPod touch without a screen" is probably closer to the mark).
Alas, it wasn't to be.
Steve Jobs announced no such device and it didn't get the silent rollout of just a press release in the days after the developer conference. But something else did. A re-designed Mac mini.
Could Steve have shelved it for lack of time? Possibly. Could it have ended up on the cutting room floor? Sure. Is it simply waiting for the hype of the iPhone 4 announcement/pre-sale/launch to subside so that Apple can announce it in another month and get another huge wave of free publicity? Absolutely. Steve Jobs is undoubtedly the P.T. Barnum of the millennia and I wouldn't put it past him.
But what about this: what if the new Mac mini ("the world's most energy-efficient desktop computer") is the new Apple TV?
I don't know about you, but I love my Mac mini and barely used my Apple TV. My Apple TV was mostly left off because I don't like having to run all my content through iTunes to get to it, the interface was a kludge, the remote control was terrible and the thing ran hotter than hell. I refer to it in the past tense because it is no longer part of my home entertainment system.
My Mac mini -- on the other hand -- is an integral part of my home entertainment system. It runs the full Mac OS and all the software that I use all the time. It has a fair amount local storage that is easily expanded with inexpensive external drives and it plays every type of media that I own, not just the ones that Apple blesses to work with iTunes. Plus there are a plethora of peripheral options available for it including Bluetooth keyboards and mice, heck I can even VNC to it from my iPhone and do all kinds of neat remote control tricks with it. It even plays DVDs.
So, could the Mac mini be the new Apple TV?
Maybe for some, but it's certainly not the Apple TV that was rumored. First, it starts at $700. Classic Apple tax. Could Apple manufacture one that costs $299? Probably. But that's not Apple's m.o. It makes premium hardware and won't get into a "race to the bottom" with every low-end PC OEM out there -- and it has stated as much on earnings conference calls.
Also, although capable, the mini is far from perfect. It could use a Blu-Ray drive (which could steal a lot of sales from Samsung and Sony) and a front-mounted (or at minimal, side-mounted) USB port and SD card slot. Who wants to reach around to the rear of their Mac mini when it's tucked inside a cramped cabinet?
All that aside, I prefer a Mac mini far and away to the Apple TV. In fact, I'm going to order one today to replace the unit currently sitting under my TV, mostly because it uses a lot less power and I keep mine running 24/7.
What about you? Where do you fall in the Mac mini/Apple TV continuum? Chime in in the TalkBack.