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Monday, February 13, 2006, 12:50 pm PT (03:50 pm ET)

Apple tables plans for Mac mini iPod dock once again

Apple Computer, for the second time in less than two years, appears to have scrapped plans to include a built-in iPod dock with some of its forthcoming Mac mini desktop computers, AppleInsider has gathered.

According to reports from multiple contacts, including some with ties to the Mac maker's component suppliers, initial plans for the first Intel-based Mac mini computers called for some models to include a built-in docking station for the company's iPod digital music players.

The dock connector, which was rumored to be located at the top of the computer, would effectively turn each Mac mini into an oversized docking station for iPods featuring the company's proprietary dock-connector.

Apple originally planned to add the dock only to its top-of-the-line Mac mini model, which it currently sells for $699, people often familiar with the company's pre-production computer plans said. The feature was scrapped for unknown reasons just weeks before the new computers are slated to hit production in the Far East, these people added.

This isn't the first time that Apple has reportedly skipped on the feature late in the development cycle of its Mac mini computers. In March of last year, a Web posting corroborated reports that Apple had planned to include an iPod dock with its very first Mac mini offering, which made their debut at the 2005 Macworld Expo trade show.

In a posting to his Web site, hardware engineer Leo Bodnar spotted an un-populated connector on a vertical CD/HDD interconnect board when he dissected one of the first Mac minis come off Apple's production lines. He also noticed the connector, which was strangely surrounded by an abundance of empty space, had a full Firewire bus and extra control signals. From his investigation, he derived that Apple had either planned to include an iPod dock in the Mac mini or hoped to add the feature in a future revision.

While there has been no stated explanation for Apple's decision to pull the plug on the feature for a second time, informed speculation points to at least two possible reasons.

"Apple makes good money on the existing docks today — $40 is what they charge — and making it part of the Mac mini would eliminate this revenue stream," said an analyst who provides coverage on Apple, but asked not to be named. "But from a more technical standpoint, having it included as standard would make it more difficult for adding future capabilities, such as additional video inputs/outputs and wireless technologies like bluetooth and Wi-Fi."

The analyst went on to suggest that Apple in the future may also choose to alter the iPod dock connector to support higher bandwidth for video, power requirements, and so forth. Hence, building the current connector into Macs could prove to be limiting.

Like Apple's forthcoming line of Intel-based iBook computers, it's expected that new Mac minis will come bundled with Apple's Front Row media software, at least a 1.67GHz Intel Core Solo processor and 512MB of standard DDR2 system memory. A low-end model should continue to sell for sub-$500, while a version with more hard disk space and DVD-burning capabilities should fetch a bit more.

The computers are rumored to hit the manufacturing lines in the next few weeks and make their official debut within a month thereafter.

So far, AppleInsider has been unable to confirm rumors that the new Mac minis will ship with an Apple-branded piece of digital video recording (DVR) software.