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Speculation: Apple's Foray Into the Media Center Marketplace

Damien Barrett

It's time for good old-fashioned speculation and rumor-mongering. Over a year and a half ago, I wrote on my personal blog about the AirHub, a fictional Apple device that was a sort of upgraded Airport Base Station...a wireless router with a built-in hard drive that could act as a home media device. This was seven months before Apple released the Mac mini, which some people have started to use an a home media server. You might make the case that the Mac mini is the AirHub, but with extended functionality. But what if Apple takes the idea even a step further than releasing an iMac with media center functionality software?

I believe Apple is going to get into the home media center market, as I've stated here in the past. And this is how I think they are going to do it. It's all centered on the long-known merchandising tactic known as upselling. Very simply, upselling is the offering of companion products to the product being sold. If you're in an electronics store buying a camera, the salesperson will also offer to sell you a carry bag, a set of storage tapes, different lenses, etc. Or the computer salesperson will offer to sell you speakers or a printer for your new computer. It's not necessarily a sneaky tactic (despite what some people argue), but it has been known to dramatically increase sales profits and margins.

If Apple releases a Media Center device of some sort in January as I believe they will, its centerpiece will be a Mac mini with an iPod dock. And I believe all the components of Apple's media center will be sold as modular units. Buying the Mac mini? Why not buy an iPod to connect to the mini to transfer files? Or you could also buy this add-on Airport device that'll let you stream music and videos to your new mini...look it plugs right in this slot here, see? You don't want all the components right now? No problem, you can buy them later at one of our Apple Stores. Oh, and it all works with Vingle? What's Vingle, you ask? Why, it's Apple's new video-on-demand network that allows you to buy and view movies, tv shows, and music on this new home entertainment media center.

I'm convinced the Mac mini is being positioned as an Apple Media Center device. It's already got the desirable small footprint and a DVI port for feeding video to your television. It also has a DVD drive for playing DVD's. And don't forget that Apple's already released software for managing media content via a Macintosh called Front Row. All Apple has to do is offer a revised Mac mini with an S-Video port, a digital audio out port, bundle it with Front Row, rebrand it, and they'll sell a million of them.

Oh, and if Apple ships this revised Mac mini, it'll be in black.

Readers, what do you think? Am I completely off the mark, or do you think Apple is working on a media center as their "one-more-thing" to make waves in January?

*note: the Mac pictured above is a Macintosh TV, a short-lived LC-based Mac from 1994 with a video tuner card. Only 10,000 of these were manufactured before being discontinued.

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