But everything I described was correct. A headless Mac made no sense, and there were real problems that needed solutions first. Apple's existing iMac was an "igloo with a billboard, whose fanciful shape has grown tiresome" and it was "awkward to carry, and worse to service... certainly not fun to crack open." The new iMac G5 solved all of those problems with an elegant and simpler form factor, and provided user friendly access to its insides.
Apple also kicked up performance dramatically with the new G5 processor, making the new iMacs a great value. Only after building such a product, which exhausted the pent up demand at the iMac price point, and created a clearly differentiated boundary between the iMac G5 level of performance and that of any forthcoming G4, could Apple now successfully introduce a Mac Mini. Until that point, any headless Mac would have to be either second class junk or would cannibalize iMac sales.
Never before in Apple's history were they so obviously in a position where they could sell yesterday's technology (today's G4) as a functional entry level model, while offering a substantially better product (the G5) along side it. In my aforementioned article, I compared the closest event on record: the 1998 original introduction of the iMac, which actually did match the performance of the existing Beige PowerMacs. For the rest of the Apple's collective history, the gap between minimally-functional and high-end has always been extremely narrow, and the prices Apple was able to command were quite high.
It was the long, slow run of the G4 that created the first opportunity ever for a functional, affordable Mac Mini at a price point that made sense. Prior to that, Apple's only option was to sell obsolete junk on the low end, and still charge a lot for it, to prevent a wholesale erosion of their small market in selling premium model computers.
To escape from the small market share, but high unit price, niche that Apple had been stuck in since the release of the Macintosh, Apple needed to dramatically change the Mac market, not simply introduce the equivalent to a PC, the 'headless Mac' that writers liked to talk about. Apple did just that by bringing marketing expertise from Target and the Gap and building a retail chain of their own stores. Earlier attempts at sales partnerships with Sears, CompUSA and even TV infomercials had failed to create retail opportunities anything like what Apple could now pull off in an bold offensive using their retail stores. With their own storefront, Apple could create an informed, welcoming marketplace to introduce new customers to their products.
So strike one: they told Apple to build a headless Mac, but they never realized that having a product to sell was far less important than having a price point to sell it at, and a retail shelf to sell it on; sorry folks, you get no credit for having an unworkable idea, because in business, only a successful execution matters.
Part III > Much Ado About Intel