What I Want From Apple’s Next Mac mini

Smaller, faster, and with way more ports

Key Takeaways

  • Apple may ship a new ‘M1X’-based Mac mini design this fall.
  • The current Mac mini design is 11 years old.
  • It will almost certainly be smaller.
M1 Mac mini setup behind a monitor on a desk

Joey Banks / Unsplash

The current M1 Mac mini is like Apple dropped a hotrod engine into a family sedan. What happens when the bodywork matches the motor?

In the fall of 2020, Apple launched three Macs containing its new M1 system-on-a-chip (SoC). The M1 proved to be a sensation. It was way faster than all but the highest-end Intel chips it replaced, while its iPhone heritage allowed it to run cool without a fan, and last for days on a single charge.

But while the Apple Silicon powering these Macs was a revolution, the cases they shipped in were all but identical to the Intel models they replaced. The first full M1-era redesign was the M1 iMac, a slimline wonder which also reintroduced color to the Mac. This fall, we expect Apple to do the same for the MacBook Pro, and now—say the rumors—we can also expect a redesigned Mac mini.

Mini Monster

The next Mac mini will almost certainly use the next version of Apple’s M-series SoC, known colloquially as the M1X. Still, the current Mac mini is no slouch. It’s fast, can connect to two external displays, and has a pair of Thunderbolt ports on the back for further expansion, for instance via a Thunderbolt dock. But it also has some drawbacks.

One is it has only two USB-A ports on the back, half the number of the Intel version. Another is it lacks modern Mac features like Touch ID and True Tone, which shifts the color of the display to match the ambient light.

Now, the Mac mini requires you bring your own display, but it could put a sensor in the box itself. Many people tuck their Mac mini out of sight, so this may not work so well, but what if we were encouraged to put it on the desk above the keyboard instead?

Apple could add that True Tone light sensor, but it could also put a Touch ID fingerprint reader on top. And while we’re at it, how about some extra expansion ports on the top of the front? An SD card reader is the most obvious addition, especially as it looks like Apple will be adding one back to the next MacBook Pro. The front of the computer is also the perfect place for a couple of USB ports, A or C, to hook up peripherals temporarily, or to plug in cameras, thumb drives, and so on. And let’s add a headphone jack while we’re here. 

External ports in general are very important on a desktop machine like the mini. Because you don’t move the computer, you can leave it hooked up to all kinds of gear, and also connect a lot of fast external drives for extra storage and backup. If the mini shrinks, then there’s less space for ports, but still, Apple could jam in as many as it can. 

New Shape

The Mac mini has pretty much kept the same shape since 2010, with only minor external changes, like ditching the DVD slot. It’s fine, but there are two reasons Apple might want to redesign it. One is that the Mac mini is no longer mini. Intel’s NUC computers are way smaller, for instance. And if you open an M1 Mac mini, you’ll see a lot of space inside. 

Apple could make something the size and shape of the little Apple TV. Or it could make a vertical computer that would take up less desk space, and perhaps even hang off the back of a monitor. 

M1 Mac Mini thunderbolt3 ports

Przemyslaw Marczynski / Unsplash

The other reason for a redesign is the mini has radio problems. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connection issues have dogged it for years, and this is almost certainly down to it being an aluminum box. The original Mac mini was an aluminum box with a polycarbonate lid, and Apple would do well to copy this design, although glass is more likely these days. And while we’re on the subject, perhaps it could have a touch-sensitive top panel like the HomePod. 

Without the need for portability, or to include a keyboard or a screen, the mini can be pretty much any shape. And that just makes the wait for it more exciting.

Was this page helpful?