Karen Haslam wrote an interesting article over at Macworld UK, discussing the next refresh to the Mac mini. Karen suggests that Apple might make a Mac mini the same size as an Apple TV. “Even better, how about a Mac mini that was also an Apple TV!”
I have to disagree; I don’t think Apple will ever do that. First, I doubt they could fit everything they need for a Mac mini inside the Apple TV’s current form factor. (However, if you remember the early Apple TV which contained a hard disk, it was nearly the size of a Mac mini.) It would need a faster processor, more power, a real video card (it currently outputs video via HDMI, which is rendered on a TV set), more RAM, and lots of other hardware features.
As for making a Mac mini that is also an Apple TV, there’s one big reason why they won’t do that: the Apple TV is designed as a bridge, not as a standalone unit (which was the case of the first versions). If they were to make the Apple TV a full-blown computer, it would be too expensive. The current price of the Apple TV – $100/£89 – makes it an inexpensive add-on to a home entertainment system. It works with both Macs and PCs, and doesn’t require anything much other than iTunes on the computer hosting the content. You can even use one without connecting it to a computer, just for streaming content from the iTunes Store.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day, Apple brought back its Front Row software, which essentially duplicated what the Apple TV can do on a Mac. If they did, then you could run it on a Mac mini connected directly to your AV receiver and TV. But it’s likely that Apple won’t go that route; I’m more inclined to expect a future version of the Apple TV with more apps, and even an app store, where you can buy subscriptions to networks or series, and even games.
The brilliance of the Apple TV is the fact that it’s not a computer; that it’s a bridge between a computer and a TV. This means that it’s easy to upgrade, cheap to buy, and easy to replace. I can’t see Apple changing that concept any time soon.