Mac Mini makes its retail debut

There were Minis on hand at San Francisco's Apple store, but shoppers hoping to buy an iPod Shuffle went home empty-handed. CNET's Jeff Pelline weighs his Mac Mini purchase Photos: S.F. crowd awaits Mac Mini debut

SAN FRANCISCO--They arrived with high hopes of landing the latest iPod, but, in the end, they shuffled home disappointed.

About 60 people lined up outside Apple Computer's retail store here on Saturday, many arriving more than an hour before the store's 9 a.m. opening. Although the shop did have a supply of Mac Minis and the company's latest software titles, there were no iPod Shuffles to be had.

Among those who went away empty-handed was T.C. Watanasoponwong, who was in San Francisco on a business trip from his native Thailand. He planned to buy an iPod Shuffle for his girlfriend, but said now he would have to buy her something else.

"I'm very disappointed," he said, walking away from the store just minutes after it opened.

The iPod Shuffle went on sale last week, but Apple's retail stores quickly sold out of their initial supply of the music players, which sell for $99 or $149, depending on how many songs they hold.

Many San Franciscans thought that Apple would surely have more of the devices on Saturday as part of a promotion in which all of the retail stores opened an hour early to start selling the Mac Mini and two new software titles.

Not everyone who arrived early was disappointed, though. Among the happier campers was mobile device consultant Russell Beattie. He already had his iPod Shuffle, having bought one the first day they went on sale. On Saturday, Beattie came to buy a Mac Mini--his first Mac.

"I'm going to do a switch," Beattie said, who said he had been considering the move for a while, but had been put off by the Mac's high prices. The Mini will allow him to use the monitor and keyboard he already has, he said. "I'm exactly the market they are aiming for."

Also in line was investment banker Peter Morrissey, who was picking up the higher-end Mac Mini.

"This would be my first Mac," he said, noting that he has been the holdout in the family, with his brother, sister and parents all avid Mac users.

Interest has been high for the and the Mac Mini, two products Steve Jobs introduced at last week's Macworld Expo here.

With both products, Apple is aiming to offer less costly versions of existing products in an effort to gain more mass appeal. The effort has shown early success, with multiweek waits for online orders of both the Shuffle and the Mac Mini.

Michelle Au, a 22-year-old student from San Jose said she has wanted an iPod for a while, but said the devices were "kind of expensive."

"The iPod Shuffle meets my needs," she said. "And because I'm a student, I get a discount."

In addition to newbies, there was another crowd of people hoping to buy the iPod Shuffle on Saturday--those who already had an iPod or iPod Mini in hand.

Josh Beckmann, a student and iPod owner, arrived at 7:45 a.m. in hopes of picking up a couple of iPod Shuffles. One was to be a gift for his brother, but the other he planned to use when running, snowboarding or working out. In the past he had used non-Apple flash players, but said the results had been less than satisfactory.

"The user interface on the other MP3 players I've used at the gym just don't cut it," he said.

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