Why Apple Won’t Need to Launch a New Mac mini After All

Mac mini

The assumptions we’ve been making about the market positions for the Mac mini and the future Mac Pro may all wrong.

The legendary Mac mini
The legendary Mac mini. How to make it more expandable?

The assumption I, and I think many others, have made is that the 2019 Mac Pro is going to be very expensive. Accordingly, those transitioning away from their 2013 Mac Pro—like developers and small companies—would be faced with a substantially and dismayingly more expensive Mac, at least in most cases. And so, a next generation, powerful, Mac mini would be an acceptable upgrade. On the other hand, large organizations that foot the bill for high-end Macs, and have confidence in a good ROI, would, of course, pay for a US$10,000 2019 Mac Pro.

[The Argument for Apple to Ship a New Mac mini is Even Stronger Now ]

I now believe this scenario and logic to be defective.

Apple’s Faith in Mac mini

The last update to the Mac mini was in October 2014. I have to believe that Apple would have shipped an updated model by now. Especially since Apple CEO Tim Cook, himself, hinted at good things to come when he responded positively to a customer in October, 2017:

I’m glad you love the Mac mini. We love it too. Our customers have found so many creative and interesting uses for the Mac mini. While it is not time to share any details, we do plan for Mac mini to be an important part of our product line going forward.

But there’s a possible wrinkle to that promise by Mr. Cook that explains why we haven’t seen a new Mac mini yet.

Modularity of 2019 Mac Pro

I’ve been thinking lately about what the modularity of the 2019 Mac Pro really means. And that, in turn, impacts how Apple might approach the design of a new Mac mini. Recall that there was some severe (and justified) criticism of the 2014 Mac mini when it was announced. The issue was upgradeability. Users want good upgradeability and flexibility in their Mac mini thanks to the way it’s bought and used. Mashing these concepts together got me thinking about how a new Mac mini, on the high end, might well bleed into the territory of a base model 2019 Mac Pro. There would be the infamous, dreaded product overlap.

2013 Mac Pro
The dream replacement could be on the way.

But, wait, you may think. The 2019 Mac Pro is Apple’s highest level Mac. It’ll have to cost a fortune, even in the base configuration.

What if, and this is my new thinking, Apple engineers realized that a bare bones 2019 Mac Pro, with a chassis, power supply, motherboard and a modest, plug-in CPU daughterboard with an Intel Core i5 and modest graphics card is, in fact, the same computer as the Mac mini that has been on the drawing board for a few years? Why build both?

A Bold Plan

Apple could still claim that Mr. Cook’s promise is in force. Apple could offer the most basic configuration of the 2019 Mac Pro as the 2019 Mac mini. At Mac mini pricing levels.

Of course, if properly designed, that very same chassis could be outfitted with the highest level of computational power. Say, 32 Xeon cores, 256, 512, or 1,024 GB of RAM, a 4 TB SSD. Plus a monster graphics system and all kinds of other plug-ins that would be beyond the realm of an ordinary Mac mini. That’s the $10,000 Mac Pro we’ve always been thinking of.

By cleverly designing a 2019 Mac Pro modular chassis, Apple neatly avoids product overlap and gives the Mac mini user base the upgradable Mac mini they’ve been dreaming of. And so customers of all kinds could start low, upgrade as they go, or start in the middle or go right to the top. The Mac world will have achieved computational heaven.

It’s all just a theory, but I like it a lot. How about you?

15 thoughts on “Why Apple Won’t Need to Launch a New Mac mini After All

  • I think it’s unlikely. Apple, and most of the computer industry seems to be heading down the computer-as-appliance model where you buy it, use it, and then get something better. I’d LOVE an upgradeable Mac. I have significant doubts as to weather we’ll see one. Love the idea though.

  • The concept of a ‘headless iMac’ has been discussed for while. If Apple can produce an iMac on sterioids [iMac Pro] why can’t it produce a Macintosh which would have the equivalent computing power of the iMac to beyond that of the iMac Pro without a display?

  • One of the charms of the Mac Mini in its current form factor is its compact, space efficient footprint. If Apple eliminates the Mini in favor of a “budget” Mac Pro, i don’t see how they can reconcile compactness of the current Mini with the expandability needs of the large Pro audience.

  • Isn’t cooling going to be a major issue? How are you going to fit a high-powered GPU into a Mini-sized case, and cool it properly? Are you thinking that the GPU would be external? Isn’t that exactly why people don’t like the existing Mac Pro—the expectation that upgrades will be external?

    1. Our Kelly Guimont has a great idea, Stackable chassis. Add the high performance stack component on top then stack the next component which is nothing but fans on top of that. You’d get fan cooling plus convection.

      1. Using T-bolt as the “spine” of that configuration would make the whole thing work. You start with a base of a cpu & mb, then add a drive unit, a unit with the ports you want, and a graphics unit if you need better than the Intel graphics. By God, that’s damned brilliant. I WANT THIS TO BE TRUE!

  • John:

    This is a practical and utilitarian vision that is almost Teutonic in its simplicity in service to functionality. Its most compelling feature is its nod to SJ’s and Sir Jony’s minimalism, but of itself is no guarantor of correctness. Going against it is its break with the demarcation, functionally correct or not, between consumer and pro machines, the iPhone and Apple Watch being two notable exceptions to this device demarcation. One can take those exceptions as favourable to your proposal. Perhaps the desktop PC has matured to the point of such exceptionalism.

    Time will tell.

  • John,

    It’s a neat idea, but I doubt it’ll ever happen. There are too many little details that stand in the way, IMHO. For one example, given that the iMac Pro has a built-in 10 GbE NIC, the Mac Pro has to have one. But a Mac mini with a 10 GbE NIC? Too expensive…

    Old UNIX Guy

  • The problem with this thesis is that it is not making Mac mini and Mac Pro together, it is forgetting about the Mac mini and make a “Mac” and Mac Pro. Mac mini is about BYODKM AND the cheapest Mac Iineup. I doubt a “Mac” will be cheap enough even at its lowest config. The Mac mini starts at $499, i.e Apple only has less then $300 of BOM cost to play with. Not a lot.

    On one hand, it sort of fits the direction Apple is heading. Apple want 80% of the consumer’s work to be done on iPad. Whatever that still best fits a mouse and keyboard would be consider as niche, and those would require lots more computing power then iPad. It is a little silly to sell a Mac mini that is less powerful then the iPad.

    On the other hand, I still believe there is another 10 years to go before the dismiss of Desktop, if it ever come. Business sitting near the desk will continue to be using Desktop for word processing, email, or many other simple creative jobs. Unless Apple allows the iPad to Dock with a larger monitor or keyboard may be Enterprise will continue to stick with Desktop PC. And Mac mini still has huge opportunity in this area.

  • Hmmm, @geoduck – one thing Apple doesn’t do is throwaway computing – its bad for the Environment, bad for people and bad for the World..

    Look at John’s suggestion another way – one which is classically Apple – giving extended life to products – that intangible value that makes it worth spending 50 -> 400% more on your computer than buying a £300 rapidly depreciating plastic box.

    An expandable, flexible, scalable compute architecture, exploiting the latest technology to deliver a machine that you buy today, upgrade next year, upgrade again in two years – instead of binning [or selling on eBay] – remember computer recycling is BAD for the environment, computer REUSE and redeployment is GOOD.

    So you don’t buy another entire computer for years – just CPU boards, SSD, graphics – its not like they aren’t fast enough – maybe Apple won’t do that – but its more future proof than a sealed box – which isn’t necessarily sealed to keep you out, its sealed because its the result of pushing the performance envelope which means the only solution to heat dissipation is elegant engineering…. something Apple excel at.

    1. Really? Apple doesn’t do throwaway computing? MacBooks with everything including the SSD and RAM soldered in place making then un upgradeable? IiMac’s where you can’t upgrade anything? Same with the current MacMini? iPhones and iPads which as great as they are, are sealed devices with no chance of repair? Admittedly this modular approach had helped reliability. We don’t notice that things aren’t upgradeable because they last so long. but that doesn’t change the devices true nature. All up and down the line apple products are devices designed to be very capable, very solid, very long lived, but not to be serviceable or upgradeable. They are throwaway devices. Not that I’m blaming Apple. All computer manufacturers have gone to this.

  • It all seems like common sense and would simplify the Mac lineup.

    There is one caveat. Apple, in the last eight years, really only caters for upper-middle class computing, epitomised by what Angela Ahrendts said when she joined Apple. Apple only make luxury products. Apple were always a bit like this but I think they have discovered in the last decade that this is their niche.

    I got a good eight years out of my 2006 Mac Pro 1.1. well worth the €2,100. These days I work with a Hackintosh. Just can’t justify the high prices for something decent.

  • I don’t think it would replace the Mini, since the raison d’etre of the Mini is Simple And Small. But I do like the idea, there’s no reason a Mac Pro should not be highly configurable and start at resonable prices.
    Or they could just call it “Macintosh” again, covering both middle and high.

  • I’ve been waiting for a new Mac Mini for the last two years, and frankly I’ve about given up hope. The 13 inch Mac Pro (two years old) that lives under the monitor stand and is NEVER used as a laptop is starting to show its age, and I’d REALLY like to upgrade. That said I am skeptical of your theory that there is going to be some “affordable” configuration of the Mac Pro. Not sure WHAT my next move is going to be…

  • Love the idea. It’s logical, and would solve thew problem exceedingly elegantly.
    I think it’s unlikely. Apple, and most of the computer industry seems to be heading down the computer-as-appliance model where you buy it, use it, and then get something better. I’d LOVE an upgradeable Mac. I have significant doubts as to weather we’ll see one. Love the idea though.

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