Apple extends Mini brand for move into mass market

Apple Computer made its most decisive move into the cut-throat mass market of personal computing last week when its chief executive Steve Jobs unveiled a suite of new products at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Perhaps the most significant product announced in Jobs’ keynote address is the Mac Mini, the cheapest and smallest Mac computer yet. Hailing from the California studio headed by Jonathan Ive, Apple vice-president of industrial design, the Mac Mini is designed to leverage consumer interest in the company, drummed up by the immensely popular iPod music player.

The Mac Mini name is a direct derivation of ‘iPod Mini’ branding, highlighting the strength of the iPod brand identity, which has been built up by Apple since its launch three-and-a-half years ago. The company refers to this knock-on appeal as the ‘halo effect’ and is hoping that non-Mac users – PC owners using Microsoft’s Windows operating system – will be tempted to convert to the Mac by the Mini’s low price and compact form.

In design and concept terms the Mini represents an evolution of Ive’s Apple Cube, which was first introduced, at a much higher price, in 2000. The falling cost of small components, coupled with Ive’s desire to produce simpler, more elegant solutions, has produced a compact package: the computer is housed in a box that is just 17cm square and 5cm deep.

Also unveiled is the latest edition to the iPod family, the iPod Shuffle, with its ‘Life is random’ strapline. This is another tiny execution and is described by Jobs as ‘smaller and lighter than a pack of gum’. Its small proportions mean that unlike the iPod proper, the Shuffle has no screen display.

The cheapest version of the iPod Shuffle, which holds 120 songs, will retail at £69. The low cost of both this and the Mac Mini, at £339, represent a move by Apple away from its traditional ‘high design at high cost’ niche, to a cheaper, mass-market offer. For Patrick Hunt, creative director at product design group Therefore, the iPod Shuffle is the most interesting of the new products, thanks to its links with Apple’s iTunes software program. ‘It obviously looks great, as you would expect, but the real strength is the combination of hardware and software. This is a great sell, delightful,’ he says.

Apple has also introduced an illustration-style graphic element to the packaging for its latest software releases, the iLife ’05 creative suite and iWorks ’05 office programs. Tom Boger, Apple senior director for worldwide desktop, refuses to reveal the details of the company’s design processes and structure, beyond saying that Ive and his team oversee all designs, from product to graphics.

Apple reported record first quarter revenues of $3.49bn (£1.87bn) last week. The figures were boosted by the sale of more than 4.5 million iPods during the period.

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