I'm fascinated with marketing lately... I've been engulfed in all the classic marketing books and some of the newer ones as well. One of the important rules I've learned is that the impression a consumer has of a product isn't as important as the impression they have of themselves as a result of using the product. In other words, a consumer has to see themselves as smarter, more beautiful, more powerful, etc. as a result of using your product. This is the secret to Apple's success in the last decade in my opinion. Steve has cultivated that elitist Mac attitude and pushed it to new heights. While he talks about tools that anyone can use, he's really selling the idea that "only we Mac people are smart enough to use them."
The problem with the Shuffle and the Mac Mini announcements is that they take the sheen off the Apple brand quite a bit. I've already started seeing news articles talking about Apple entering the "Value Market" selling "discount computers" like they're starting to compete with Wal-Mart and eMachines.
I can imagine that if for some reason, kids - or even adults - got the idea that the Shuffle or the Mac Mini was for those people who, *ahem*, shop at K-Mart regularly (because they have to), it could really inadvertently affect sales of Apple's entire product line. I've already had that thought deep in my subconcious: "I hope people don't think I'm a loser pretending to be cool because I got the bargain-basement iPod." Right? Look at him, he couldn't afford a *real* iPod, so he got a Shuffle instead...
It's not that technically these two products aren't great, they are. I'm going to buy both of them. It's that if the Apple brand is somehow diminished by the low-costs of these devices, it could snowball into a marketing disaster. If someone buys a Shuffle, but ends up not feeling as good about themselves because for some reason it's not considered as cool, that magical aura could be lost, as would that customer. Same for the Mac and the Mac mini. And once Apple loses those customers, they're gone for good.
We'll see what happens. I'm sure the marketing whizzes at Apple have already thought about this, but it dawns on me that it could've been a strategic mistake to launch two low-cost devices at the same time. Maybe it would've been better to introduce each one as an addition to more high-end devices. The Mac Mini should've been launched in tandem with another Power Mac, and the Shuffle launched with another high-end iPod (Video?) rather than throwing them both out there together, encouraging reporters, analysts and others to examine Apple's "low-end route."