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Apple stalls Mac Mini test-drive offer

PR you couldn't pay for

Apple has apparently pulled the plug on a scheme to allow would-be Mac Mini buyers to try the diminutive computer for a month, free of charge.

The offer appeared on Apple's website yesterday. The company did request money up front - trial participants still have to pay for the Mini - but at the end of a 30-day period, Apple would refund the cost of the machine and any peripherals bought to go with it, and arrange their return, the company said.

“We’re so confident you’ll love your new Mac mini, we’ll let you test drive it for 30 days with no risk," Apple's website said.

News of the deal quickly spread, and it's being widely suggested that the offer became rapidly over-subscribed, prompting Apple to withdraw the offer to any further customers.

That may have been the intention all along. Some companies pay good money for the kind of coverage the Mac Mini test drive programme has brought Apple, most of it suggesting or at least implying there is very strong demand for the computer.

There's nothing insidious here. Apple is under no obligation to run such offers for any specific duration, and it can argue that it only intended to run the offer for such a short period of time. We don't know, but Apple might only have had half a dozen responses before pulling the plug on the offer. Either way, the result, from a marketing perspective, is the same. It's also a smart way of persuading waverers to say 'hang it!' and part with their cash.

Since Apple announced in June that it will transition its machines from PowerPC processors to Intel CPUs, there's been plenty of speculation that the scheme will impact the company's short-term sales. Apple itself has been appropriately - from a fiduciary duty point of view - cautious on the repercussions of the announcement. The fear is buyers will delay purchases they would have made over the next nine months or so in order to wait for Intel-based kit.

Whether that's a realistic fear or not, Apple has to show PowerPC-based kit is still in demand, and the test-drive offer, whether motivated by marketing reasons or the simple desire to ship boxes, is one way of demonstrating exactly that.

Expect many such schemes in the coming months. ®

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