Thoughts on the Mac mini, running a business, and long teeth

Parts of the Apple community have been upset lately about the Mac mini left in update limbo for nearly three years. I get that the mini has a following. But at the end of the day, I don’t blame Apple for spending so much of its attention elsewhere. It’s a business, after all, and businesses have to spend time on things that are either important now or show strong signs of being important soon.

Here are a few things that might bring context to the situation.

Intent

Tim Cook recently answered a customer email about the Mac mini. Without offering any details of a forthcoming update, he stated that the Mac mini is “an important part” of the Mac’s future.

Some dismissed it as empty promises, claiming that Cook simply said what any CEO would about a current product. But here’s the rub: it’s a great bet that Tim Cook’s (public) address gets a ton of email. He—or more accurately, Apple’s marketing department—could simply have sent that email to the circular filing bin with so many others. They knew responding to that email would spark media coverage and expectations.

Numbers

As for why Apple hasn’t updated the Mac since December 2014, let’s do some fuzzy math on its sales over the last few years. Starting from a bird’s eye view, Apple sells around one Mac for every 6-10 iOS devices, at least in the low or normal quarters. By itself, the iPhone is a majority of Apple’s revenue.

Among those Mac sales, the various flavors of MacBook take a whopping 85 percent. That means desktops—iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro—are just 15 percent of Mac sales. Apple does not get more granular than notebooks vs desktops, so the mini’s portion of that 15 percent is anyone’s guess. My guess is the iMac takes the lion’s share of that 15 percent, followed distantly by the Mac mini and Pro.

In its most recent quarter (non-holiday, mind you), Apple sold 46.7 million iPhones, 10. Million iPads, and 5.4 million Macs. That means Apple sold, at most, around 810,000 desktops last quarter. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mac mini sold in the very low six figures, or less.

Priorities

Businesses spend time on things that are either important or show strong signs of being important in the future. Retail employees spend time on assigned tasks. Actors focus (mostly) on projects that further their careers. Small business owners like myself spend most or all of their time on things that will help the business and support themselves and/or their families.

When we look at the numbers, and take a guess at what Apple knows about how and how often the Mac mini is used, I don’t fault the company at all for spending its attention elsewhere. Even if we get more speculative and try to look at products which experience big upgrade cycles, I have a hard time believing the Mac mini ranks anywhere significant. It sure seems to me like people swap out their smartphones, notebooks, and even tablets more often than Mac minis.

Sum

Looking at Apple’s numbers, perceived priorities, and statement of intent, I do buy that the company still cares about the Mac mini and plans to update it. If I were a gambling person, I’d bet it would be within the next year, give or take. A mention at WWDC 2018 would be convenient, but so would an addendum to either the iMac Pro event later this year or Mac Pro event early next year.