Some have argued Apple TV and Mac mini would eventually consolidated, I’m going to go a bit deeper today.
Since last Macworld Expo, Apple has had two almost-identical products; Mac mini and Apple TV. While they appear different on the outside, on the inside, they’re nearly identical. Mac mini is designed for computer use, Apple TV for the TV. But they do so with nearly-identical guts. Almost identical main logic boards, low-grade CPUs, and functionality.
It only makes sense to appease customers, and reboot Apple TV sales, by combining the two products. These two devices are in all likelyhood on a collision course for next week. This will also allow Apple to write off sluggish Mac mini sales. While better than Apple TV, which has been a failure by modern Apple standards, Mac mini hasn’t been a strong seller either. Still, Apple knows the need for both. Apple TV for living-room wars, and Mac mini to switch budget-conscious consumers to the Mac.
How will Apple pull this off in the marketplace? Simple. When you power on the new system, it will give you a choice, Front Row or Finder to boot into. Of course, you can make this option stick, so it will work just like an Apple TV does now (if you want).
And, Apple has been watching the Apple TV hackers, just like over on iPhone. Apple TV is a much more straightforward process, the system can handle users, doesn’t need massive CoreServices renovations to pull off an SDK, and most software can run with minimal modification.
Now, some will point out that the Mac mini has an optical drive, but the Apple TV doesn’t. This plays well for Apple, actually. See, they’re launching this pesky little mini MacBook at the show. And, it has an external optical drive as well. So, if you’ve got one product that is going to need an optical external drive, it can share SKUs with the new desktop as well. This also increases Apple’s profit margins on the Mac; you’ll have to buy the drive separately (though, they may bundle the Combo drive, and have people fork over for a SuperDrive).
Plus, with iTunes DVDs being launched at the show (regular DVDs with an iTunes-protected copy of the movie as well), it’s a perfect chance to leverage a secondary Mac connected to the TV, to pump a local, disc-less library of purchased movies… with the DVDs still on the shelf. It also puts iTunes fully into the system, so purchasing content from your TV is as simple as writing a Front Row plugin that customizes the interface… not hard when you have the source code for both Front Row and iTunes (as well as the XML-driven iTunes Store).
But wait, there’s more! Apple avoids the platform wars between HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Customers can toss in a USB 2.0 Blu-ray player later on, whenever Apple’s ready to sign on (and since they’ve been leaning Blu-ray for years, Apple may commit to the platform Tuesday as well). Then, Apple’s TV position is both cheap, expandable, and doesn’t burn customers with obsolete technology.
So, while Microsoft and Sony are pushing TV dominance with gaming consoles… Apple will be pushing the Mac, and consumers won’t know it until they have a whole library of software and content deployed on the system. I wouldn’t be surprised if the name winds up on Tuesday being iPod TV… like iPhone, and now iPod, Apple has quietly put the full Mac OS in yet another part of their lineup.
Standard Macworld disclaimer: Things can change in an instant with Macworld, this may not land on Tuesday, I never make any promises with a keynote.