Apple Goes Big Time With Mac Mini

With the much rumored "headless" $499 Mac, offiically christened Mac Mini, finally appearing at its annual MacWorld conference yesterday, Apple has finally addressed its legion of critics who have hounded the company about getting into lower-end of the PC market.

"I and a lot of others have been on their case for a long time now about not covering the lower price points. They have left a lot of business on the table by not having something available in that space. I applaud them for finally turning their attention to this market," said Roger Kay, vice president of client computing for IDC in Framingham, Ma.

Kay and other analysts say the new system should mainly attract the attention of small businesses and consumers, many of whom likely have never purchased an Apple system. They believe however that it will not necessarily run up against the low cost offerings of Dell, Hewlett Packard, and Lenovo, the China-based distributor who recently purchased IBM's $11.5 billion PC business. They do believe however it could appeal to those smaller businesses interested in managing digital content.

"The emerging trend in this decade is digital content and the management of that content on PCs. Apple identified this trend in early 2000 and arguably has the best suite of content management programs. But you do not need a $1,300 machine to mange digital content. You can do it on a $500 machine," said Charles Wolf, analyst with Needham & Co. in New York.

The much rumored low-end productivity suite also appeared during CEO Steven Jobs keynote today, called iWork, which includes a new word processing program called Pages along with an updated version of Keynote, a slideshow application Apple first delivered two years ago.

Some observers think the new package is more of an attempt to replace Apple's aging AppleWorks productivy suite than it is to replace Microsoft's Office For Mac.

"Apple has its legacy product in AppleWorks but and they have put no money into updating it. I think what we are seeing (with iBiz) is the reincarnation of AppleWorks. It would never replace Office but if you are targeting an audience that looks at their computers as digital content managers and they want to do some light word processing, then a suite like that, that sells for $99 would be much more appealing," Needham & Co.'s Wolf said.