Will Mac Mini spur petite-PC revolution?

Windows PC manufacturers are hoping Apple Computer's Mac Mini catches on. Really. Photos: Petite PCs

Apple Computer isn't the only company with big hopes for small computers.

Rival PC makers are hoping Apple's newly minted Mac Mini, which went on sale last Saturday, helps shift consumer tastes to smaller desktops at a time when most people associate "little" with laptops.

"I love the product. I think it's beautiful," said Tom Anderson, vice president of marketing for the Consumer PC Global Business Unit at Hewlett-Packard. "If it started a trend of small (desktops)...I'd be very happy about that. It would be a reason for someone to consider a desktop."


What's new:
Windows PC makers are closely following consumer interest in Apple's Mac Mini and hoping to piggyback on the product's success if sales soar.

Bottom line:
So far, big-name PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard have had little success with small desktops. Could the newly unveiled Mac Mini change all that?

More stories on desktop sales

Big-name PC makers such as HP have so far had little success with small desktops, but the tiny Apple could well create enough buzz to spark new interest among consumers, some executives said.

Most buyers tend to purchase PCs based more on price and quality of technical support than on design, analysts said. Yet executives such as HP's Anderson see a market for unobtrusive desktops that consumers would purchase as second or third computers and use in settings such as kitchens, where large desktops are impractical. Such PCs would have to be small and able to blend in, considerations that would likely prove more important than the number of CD drives the desktops could incorporate.

Anderson and others said they believe miniature desktops will eventually take off in the United States and Europe, as they have in Asia.

Though mini PCs have primarily caught on at business call centers and among enthusiasts who build their own machines, buyers have opened their wallets for small desktops from companies such as Shuttle and Little PC. Touchdown Industries even appeals to sports fans with a tiny machine that fits inside a football helmet. Meanwhile, some consumers have reported interest in using the Mac Mini for home entertainment, while others envision it providing Internet access in living rooms and kitchens.

CNET News.com reader Doran Else said he wants to purchase a Mac Mini to eliminate the need for regular Windows updates. If the first Mini serves him well, he said, he'd like to add a second one so he can access the Internet in his kitchen.

But minis will face a formidable challenge in the thriving portable market.

Although the trend isn't expected to last forever, growth in unit sales of notebook PCs at retail has outpaced that of desktops for some time. During the 2004 holiday season alone, retail sales of notebooks in the United States leaped 26 percent, preliminary data from The NPD Group shows. Moreover, unit sales growth in the $1,000 notebook category corresponded with slower sales in the $600 to $1,000 desktop PC category, said Steve Baker, an analyst with NPD.

"People who are adding to their home inventory (of PCs) are going to want something different," Baker said. "Most people don't have two great big TVs. They've usually got one big one and the kids might have one and maybe there's a 13-inch in the kitchen. People try to fit the value to the task that product is going to perform. I think more and more you'll see PCs have that effect."

The diminutive Mac arrives at a time when most Windows-based desktop machines offer the same basic elements, including at least two 5.25-inch bays for CD or DVD drives, a floppy drive, a series of front-mounted ports for headphones and other peripherals, as well as a memory card reader. Currently, designing a desktop has more to do with choosing parts to hit a specific price than creating a thing of beauty.

But a movement to miniature desktops would elevate the importance

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