Can Apple and the Mac mini learn from Dell’s Studio Hybrid?

By

post-2425-image-007610c085afdfad4dbbc74185c3107d-jpg

Although once famously proud of annihilating its R&D budget, it appears Dell is now in some cases reading from the Book of Apple, in taking existing ideas and–at least in some ways–improving them. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the Dell Dock, taking the UI device from OS X that’s loved and loathed in equal measure and adding handy auto-categorization. (And, yes, I’m well aware Apple didn’t invent docks, but if you’ve been paying attention, that’s kind of my point.)

However, while the Dell Dock is an interesting curiosity, the Studio Hybrid (depicted) is a rather more ballsy production, not only taking on the Mac mini and AppleTV, but exposing some of the shortcomings in Apple’s range of highly consumer-oriented desktop machines.

In terms of hardware, the Studio Hybrid is nothing new: Dell has shoe-horned a laptop’s guts into a small and fairly contemporary form factor. But when it comes to options, Apple’s machine is trumped in some key areas. Dell offers Blu-ray as an option (albeit with a $250 price-tag), HDMI video out, a card reader, and also pushes adding a TV tuner. (Amusingly, you can also add a bamboo shell for $130, which almost makes Apple’s black MacBook price-tag look sensible.)

Sure, there are compromises, not least the Dell lacking Mac OS X, the bizarre omission of wireless in the stock model, and the fact that on Dell’s online store, you have to click ‘Go to Next Component’ about 56 billion times to configure your unit (versus the streamlined and efficient approach taken on the Apple Store). But, to some extent, it does highlight the manner in which Apple is almost dropping the ball when it comes to living-room computing.

AppleTV shows promise, and the future of media is undoubtedly going to be centered around downloads. However, we’re not there yet, and people have too much investment in optical media. Therefore, AppleTV becomes an additional unit to homes already suffering from clutter under their televisions. And the mini, despite offering loads of potential, seems to have been practically shunned by Apple, banished to the corner like an unloved and unwanted child.

Rumors always abound regarding future Apple kit, with pie-in-the-sky wishes dashed by the brutal hand of reality upon an Expo or WWDC keynote. My wishes are rather simpler, though: a Mac mini that genuniely makes a play for the living room. Take a leaf out of Dell’s book, Apple, and bundle in that card reader, so people can more easily bung photos on their TV screen. Add that Blu-ray option for people who want to own media rather than rent downloads. And add HDMI video out by default, so people can connect their mini to a new TV without faffing about with additional leads.

Don’t worry about the bamboo option, though.

.

Deals of the Day

  • A

    “bundle in that card reader”
    Why would they put something into the computer that just takes up space and most people still wouldn’t use? It’s not like external card readers are huge, bulky and expensive.
    I don’t see Apple pushing the Mac mini into the living room, thats what they have the TV for and Apple are probably smart enough to not put two of their own products against each other.
    If Apple believes in a world centered around downloads they should pursue that gold, i have full faith in them.

  • william

    I basically agree with you but:
    1) The stand on the studio hybrid is a stupid waste of space and it will probably fall over. I don’t think Apple would do that.

    2)Handbrake!! Getting rid of all those disks is something I really want to do now, I don’t want to start buying content in yet another format (Blu-ray,etc.) What I’d really like is a low-power, high capacity storage option for the AppleTV. So far, I’ve got about 700gb of content served from a Windows box in my basement, nothing on the AppleTV drive. How about a hd-less AppleTV that could get the content exclusively from a Time Capsule (which you can’t do now, right?)

  • synthmeister

    The HDMI and the BlueRay options are no-brainers for the mini. I also think they should make the mini slightly bigger and use standard (re: cheap and big) desktop hard drives. People want their entire movie, photo and audio libraries on their computers now. An iPod drive or even a laptop drive barely makes the cut.

  • Ted T.

    A Mac Mini with Blu-ray & HDMI — yes, please, along with N wireless and Firewire 800.

    No card reader please — that is a total waste of space, external USB ones work just fine. A souped up, high end Mac Mini wouldn’t be “competing” with the AppleTV — it would be in a totally different price category. And Apple can make more on a Mini sale than on an AppleTV, plus it guarantees them another Mac OS X user, while the AppleTV could be used with a Windows machine.

  • ED

    This is “styling” not “design”. Design follows function as per Apple products; Mac Pro – cooling & grab handles, iPhone – touch screen, laptops – keyboard and screen etc.

    In other words Dell is applying “styling” to their products – meaningless decoration. Why not a pink one for the ladies? Idiotic, so don’t be fooled – it’s just disguised junk.

  • Peter

    And did anybody check the price? For similarly configured machines, the Mac mini comes to $947. The Dell Studio comes to $649!

    Let’s see…$649 for the computer, $129 for Mac OS X, and $79 for iLife is $857. So it’s cheaper to buy the Dell and hack Mac OS X and iLife on there than it is to buy a Mac mini!

  • Andrew DK

    Home media is definitely evolving into a much more technical setup and I think Apple is doing the right thing to try and keep it as simple as possible. BUT, I see a couple issues:

    1) HD – Only HD rentals? I’ll stick to my Netflix, thank you. No Blu-ray drive? Good thing I have a PS3. Apple makes nothing off me here.
    2)Storage – Most everything other than HD content is practical to store digitally so having a media hub which stores it all and streams it to your home theater set-up would be ideal. For music Apple has this down pretty well; music is relatively cheap from iTunes plus and AirTunes is pretty simple to set up. For SD movies and TV shows it still comes down to availability. $2 for a TV show I watch once? $3-$5 to rent a movie? Again, I’ll stick with Netflix.

  • Moctod

    Some of us have been paying attention.

    We know that NeXT invented the dock, a full eight years before MS innovated it in Win95.

  • Pete Mortensen

    This was an insightful post, Craig. Dell’s Studio line, features-wise, shows what Apple might do in the living room. Its design, of course, is laughingly off-base — its narrative frame completely misses the point. This should look like a high-end piece of consumer electronics equipment, not a weird statue.

    Still, it saddens me that Apple doesn’t recognize that the real potential of the Mac mini is to become THE living room computer. I have a boss who hates Macs who is considering buying a Mac mini because it’s the only computer that looks good with his stereo. If Apple threw in HDMI and BluRay, he would buy one in a second.

  • Launcher

    The Mac mini is designed to attract Wintel switchers and to be the household’s 2nd or 3rd Mac, not to blaze trails into the home theater market. I’m sure it will eventually get HDMI video, but not before the Mac Pro and Cinema Displays. And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, and it certainly sounds like you haven’t, AppleTV does have HDMI.

    The Mac mini will probably never get Blu-Ray, however. Don’t hold your breath, BD fans. Apple has absolutely zero interest in seeing BD succeed. Steve wants us to buy and download our movies and music from iTunes, not buy yet another plastic disc format from Amazon.com or Wal-Mart.

    So from a business standpoint, it’s a no-brainer to kill off BD. Let’s see now. Floppy disc: dead. SCSI and parallel ports: dead. Audio CD: dead. BD: soon to be stillborn. The BD vs. HD-DVD stalemate ensured that neither format would succeed. The window of opportunity has passed. BD is the new Mini-Disc, no matter what the Best Buy sales droids try to tell you.

    “People want their entire movie, photo and audio libraries on their computers now. An iPod drive or even a laptop drive barely makes the cut.”

    See what I mean by BD being dead already? But really, this is what AppleTV is for. Not the Mac mini. Why drag a computer into the living room when all you need is a Wi-Fi connection to your computer?

    You should seriously check it out:

    http://www.apple.com/appletv/

    It’s pretty amazing. Read the tech specs. It’s even slower than the Mac mini because it doesn’t need to be fast if it only handles audio and video. And slow = cheap.

  • Launcher

    The Mac mini is designed to attract Wintel switchers and to be the household’s 2nd or 3rd Mac, not to blaze trails into the home theater market. I’m sure it will eventually get HDMI video, but not before the Mac Pro and Cinema Displays. And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, and it certainly sounds like you haven’t, AppleTV does have HDMI.

    The Mac mini will probably never get Blu-Ray, however. Don’t hold your breath, BD fans. Apple has absolutely zero interest in seeing BD succeed. Steve wants us to buy and download our movies and music from iTunes, not buy yet another plastic disc format from Amazon.com or Wal-Mart.

    So from a business standpoint, it’s a no-brainer to kill off BD. Let’s see now. Floppy disc: dead. SCSI and parallel ports: dead. Audio CD: dead. BD: soon to be stillborn. The BD vs. HD-DVD stalemate ensured that neither format would succeed. The window of opportunity has passed. BD is the new Mini-Disc, no matter what the Best Buy sales droids try to tell you.

    “People want their entire movie, photo and audio libraries on their computers now. An iPod drive or even a laptop drive barely makes the cut.”

    See what I mean by BD being dead already? But really, this is what AppleTV is for. Not the Mac mini. Why drag a computer into the living room when all you need is a Wi-Fi connection to your computer?

    You should seriously check it out:

    http://www.apple.com/appletv/

    It’s pretty amazing. Read the tech specs. It’s even slower than the Mac mini because it doesn’t need to be fast if it only handles audio and video. And slow = cheap.

  • Doug Petrosky

    Apples pricing always starts solid and slowly gets worse. The mini was released a full year ago and has not had a change sense. This ether means an update is due or that the product is about to be killed. If it survives here is my wish/expetations. In order of how likely they are.

    1) Reduce price and increase speed..
    Base price should drop to $499 for 2.2Ghz 2GB/160 Combo drive 802.11n
    2) Add HDMI
    3) Add Blue-ray option
    4) Add a dedicated video card option
    6) Move the power supply into the box ala AppleTV.
    7) Add an express card slot

    It is fine if they need to make it slightly larger to do some of these things, but like it or not this is their low cost offering until they finally decide to make an actual micro tower.

  • John Francini

    There is one flaw in the “No Blu-Ray Forever” argument: data storage and offline archiving. A BD-R disc will store 25 GB on a single layer disc, and 50 GB on a dual-layer disc. Research is under way to add to the number of writable layers, with experimental 10-layer (250 GB) discs demonstrated.

    Don’t discount the attraction of offline data storage, archiving, and transport. While networks are getting faster and faster, they’re still not as fast as a van full of media — be they discs or tapes. (Latency is a bit of a problem, however. ;-) )

    I’d like to see a BD-R in future Mac gear for just that reason.

  • Craig Grannell

    “AppleTV does have HDMI”

    Uh, I know. I only said the Mac mini didn’t have it. AppleTV lacks optical, which is still massively important to many.

    “Why drag a computer into the living room when all you need is a Wi-Fi connection to your computer?”

    Show me how I can play one of my hundreds of DVDs on an AppleTV. And before anyone says rip them to iTunes, bear in mind our household needs optional subtitles.

  • solid

    Craig said: “AppleTV lacks optical”

    AppleTV lacks optical? Hmmmm. That’s strange. Why do I have an optical audio cable coming from my AppleTV connected directly to the optical audio input port of my Yamaha receiver?

    Just for looks I guess.

  • Craig Grannell

    @solid—By that I meant AppleTV lacks an optical drive, not optical audio. I’m well aware of the connectors AppleTV has, but I believe that in the current market, it’s hampered by its inability to play media (amongst other things).

    Perhaps in some distant future where broadband speeds are universally fast and media providers aren’t all total idiots, we’ll see AppleTV be the mutt’s nuts. Right now, though, it’s just another box, hampered by its shortcomings. The mini’s also the same, although the shortcomings are different. Combine the two, however, and you’re on to something.

  • Bamboo fan

    Why not the bamboo option? Looks like a cool thing for inside the home.

  • Scott Sterba

    To more easily configure your new Dell Studio Notebook on Dell.com without clicking “Go to Next Component about 56 billion times”, simply click on “Switch to list view” in the upper left corner. When you get to the bottom, just click “Continue” to go to the next group of options.

  • Josh

    Well, a few things people on here seem to miss about the Dell Studio.

    First – the card reader you are staring at in every pic you’ve seen of it likely – at least all the ones up top. That’s right – its built around the perimeter of the front – and so is the slot for loading optical media.

    Second, comparing bamboo to a plastic color choice doesn’t really measure up.

    Apple used a different color of plastic on the macbooks. Dell is using a different material all together. Its not just a bamboo print – its ACTUAL bamboo. Not saying its worth the extra money for it – but its not a different color – its a different material all together.

    And, while I realize that not everyone uses CD’s anymore or maybe everyone hasn’t gone over to blu-ray. But the point is there are OPTIONS. Apple locks you in to what they think is appropriate. And hey, that’s cool. If you are ok with someone telling you what you want. But for other people – they like having physical media. They want to watch movies in true HD and don’t want 1000 different devices to do it. So, that is where this comes in handy. You can do blue ray, connect it to your HDTV, surf the web as well, download your pictures directly onto the unit, etc.

    THIS could be a true living room PC. Think about it – you can hook up your TV to it, use it as a DVR with Media Center (transfer to a Zune for shows on the go if you want) – play Blu-Ray HD movies on your HDTV, get online with it – upload pictures – play music – all from 1 unit.

    Its a smart device – well Designed regardless of what some people on here think. Its a very nice, simple, clean design and with an appropriate dash of style as well in the different colors.

    Its a great device it looks like – with a super price point that could easily find its way into the hearts of many very very soon.

  • John

    The stand is optional. The Hybrid works fine on its side (the word Hybrid even switches positions)

    And I think most everyone (including Craig) is missing the point on how green this PC is. It uses way less power than the normal desktop (thanks in part to its laptop components)and ships in a box made of 95% recycled material. The bamboo is even made from stuff like bamboo flooring that someone was getting rid of (it wouldn’t make sense to call it green if they were tearing down bamboo forest).

    And what’s this styling vs design business? Dell was the first company to have a multi-touch tablet, and while Dell isn’t the first company to make a mini it definitely designed this one. It doesn’t look anything like any other mini. Dell does the same thing that Apple does, designs products that are going to sell. And they are doing very well. Still the number one computer company in the world.

  • Ribminster

    “Apple locks you in to what they think is appropriate. And hey, that’s cool. If you are ok with someone telling you what you want.”

    This is such an ignorant statement. A person chooses to go the download route in exactly the same way he would choose to go with Bluray. And what if I get Bluray? Can I really do anything I want with my DRM’d optical media? What are my options, exactly?

    It seems fairly obvious to me that Apple are not designing products for power users, and they certainly are not going to release a product that adds competition to what their main focus really is—the iTunes Store. Any media products they introduce are going to expand the value of their download service.

  • Andrew DK

    “mutt’s nuts”

    That’s my new favorite idiom.

  • Blind Loyalty

    Lol this is funny. You guys need to quit being blind loyalists and think of value and options. Yes Apple makes products with a ton of design and stability looked at when created but they want to stay small. OSX is bsd based and to broaden support for more hardware and more devices brings on a lot more development needs just for drivers and functionality and that gets really big and expensive quick. They haven’t sold osx open for pcs because of this very problem due to lack of supporting drivers for the mass amounts of hardware out there that Apple doesn’t use and probably don’t want to open up the can of worms that bsd lags sadly in driver development compared to say its cousin linux and would cost a lot of staff addon to implement.

    You say it’s all about itunes this and itunes that well hello you can dload and install itunes on a studio plus have the bluray and hdmi and card readers so that’s a silly argument. The thing is that Apple previously didn’t have competition in this arena and now they do from the hardware company that has the biggest amount of buying power globablly for pc hardware there is. Kinda smells like a big kudos for Dell for sneaking in and passing them on their own turf guys. Apple doesn’t get oneupped very often at all and this is one of those rare moments. You know now except for taking on EFI from Intel’s stable they are just selling PCs with OSX at a high markup. The Ipod saved this place and maybe there’s about to be more competition in the looks arena from Dell and then as always soon after HP will fall in line. Dell did come out with one of the coolest looking LCD displays earlier this year at CES so looks like they’re on the hunt for some of that high margin fluffy looking stuff. Nobody is safe forever in technology.

  • Craig Grannell

    Just to clarify, I’m not against Apple’s ‘lock in’ approach (and, frankly, the mini at least does offer some customisation options) – the problem is that, for whatever reason, the mini has been tossed aside, despite it being the ideal living-room machine for many.

    I have no doubt that in the very long run, Jobs will be proved ‘right’ regarding optical media, and that everything will be on a hard drive of some sort (which, presumably, most people will fail to back-up). But that time isn’t here now, and it’s not going to arrive any time soon. Even in the music space we still have labels arguing the toss over rights, DRM and globalisation. With movies and TV, this is a hundred times worse. Until that’s sorted – which is going to take a number of years – people will continue to buy DVDs and Blu-ray, and will need to play them. With various boxes offering convergence, people don’t want additional clutter, and so Apple’s approach seems somewhat misguided.

    To that end, it’s staggering that there is no out-of-the-box equivalent to this Dell product from Apple. It wouldn’t take much – a few changes to the mini, or a fairly major one to the AppleTV. Indeed, perhaps this is a product Apple will release later this year. Until then, though, Dell has, amazingly, trumped Apple, and in this case Apple only has itself to blame.

  • Matt

    I think Dell also missed the boat on a few items – no bluetooth is drag if you want to have a broad choice of accessories in a living room set-up. But on the other hand, it’s irked me that Apple has continued to offer only 802.11g on their mini’s – thereby making it the only computer in their line-up with a slower wireless connection. In the end, I don’t see Dell getting Apple users to come over but they may satisfy a few PC users with a nice tight package.

    I will comment on one previous post – when I tried to build a Dell based on the basic Apple model, it came to a to be more expensive, especially when you add things like wifi, photo & movie editing, and remote control.