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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

"Users Critique Apple Computers" - Some Mainstream Journalists Still Don't Get It
January 7th, 2000

Uhhh... You know, I really thought that we were past the age of idiot journalists misunderstanding the Mac market. I am guessing I am wrong after reading a piece by an unnamed AP writer reporting on the opening days of MACWORLD Expo in San Francisco. I am not prone to deconstructing other people's articles in my column, but there was a certain article that got me so tense, I had to sound off about it. Call it a catharsis.

The piece is called Users Critique Apple Computers, but it could have been called Mainstream Journalist Doesn't Know What He Is Talking About.

From the piece:

"Despite their elation over chic and powerful new computers and rebounding stock prices, Apple's devoted users are still clamoring for more: inexpensive machines, more business solutions, and please, can't someone get rid of that silly, round mouse?

"Apple Computer Inc.'s most ardent fans who gathered in San Francisco this week at the semiannual MacWorld show along with industry observers, agree that the company has room to grow.

I am the first to admit that I am a Mac partisan, but I'll be damned if I can find people at the Expo who are sitting around saying "Apple still has room to grow."

"'Apple's biggest problem is their price point. To get more mainstream, they really need to bring their prices down,' said Michael Carruth, CEO of Mac University, a training and consulting center in Chicago. 'If people are shopping for a really low-priced computer, they're not going to pick a Mac.'

"Although more than 25 million people are now using Apple computers, the company's systems still have only a small share - about 5 percent - of the market. Almost all users are still on PCs, taking advantage of recent competition that have seen prices for reasonably powerful machines suitable for the everyday consumer drop under $500.

"Under the leadership of CEO Steve Jobs during the past 2 1/2 years, Apple has narrowed its products to four basic systems, a laptop and desktop for consumers, and a laptop and desktop for businesses. But the least expensive - and best-selling - system, the low-end desktop iMac, still retails for about $900 and the laptop iBook costs $1,500.

Hey, I like the people at Mac University, but the quote included above is not representative of most Mac users. Apple has the number one selling computer in the country and obviously does not need to lower their prices. The US$995 iMac is a great move by Apple, but the most popular model released, according to Steve Jobs, was the iMac DV SE priced at US$1499. When the companies making cheap computers aren't making much money, and Apple is raking it in hand over fist, I think it safe to say that their pricing structure is fine. Mr. Carruth is right that people looking to spend a buck-twenty-five on a computer are not going to turn to Apple, but then again, does Apple need to compete in that market? I think not. At least not yet.

"'I think they need to get a sub-$1,000 notebook,' said David Lawrence, host and executive producer of the onLine Today radio show. 'Right now the iBook is still a novelty. To become mainstream that price must come down.'

And the iBook is the single highest selling consumer laptop in the country. Again, I don't think that makes it a novelty struggling to find consumer acceptance. Apple had 11% of the portable market during November according to numbers released by Steve Jobs during his keynote. While I would love to be buying an iBook at US$899, it is not to Apple's benefit to do so if the public is willing to line up and pay US$1499. Those increased margins make it possible for Apple to continue to innovate, something not seen in the Wintel world, and I personally am willing to pay what Apple's products are worth in order to continue to see that innovation.

"Another concern among some of the more sophisticated users is that Apple is focusing too much on consumers with cute, easy-to-use systems, and not giving enough attention to business users who are willing to sacrifice simplicity for power.

"'It seems like Apple is just going for the new users, people who never saw a computer before,' said Jared Stutts, a Web designer from Novato, Calif. 'They're leaving out people at the high end.'

Mr. Stutts, check out the PowerMac G4, you might like it...

Seriously though, I find some fault with Apple's professional line. The whole three-slot (4 with the AGP slot) argument still ruffles my feathers. Apple said yesterday at the townhall meeting that Apple would never make more than a three slot machine. Come on guys, we really do need more than three slots!

Other than that, I think the G4 line kicks butt.

"Another concern from Apple fans Thursday was that the company's newly announced 'KidSafe' software won't keep children out of pornographic or violent Web sites.

"'This is the stupidest thing they've rolled out,' said Lawrence. 'Parents and mentors absolutely must not depend on filters. Kids are going to crack them, no matter what.'

I could not disagree more. For one thing, anyone paying attention to the Keynote presentation would understand that KidSafe is not filtering. Sites are not filtered out, but individual sites are added to a blocking list. This service is anything but stupid, especially from a marketing stand point. Certainly it is true that parents *must not* rely on a site blocking feature, no matter how good it is, to keep their kids from viewing material they may consider harmful, but parents do need help. KidSafe is the first product I know about that doesn't take the shotgun approach, and it will be much harder, though I doubt it will be impossible, for kids to circumvent. To be able to offer that service to parents is going to be an incredible selling point.

Of course, those kids old enough to influence their parent's computer buying decision, but young enough to find themselves at the mercy of KidSafe may end up doing anything they can to keep their folks from buying a Mac... I have long felt that kids, and their desire to play games, is one of the biggest influences that many families have when making a computer purchase.

The bottom line is that this article seemed to take the most absurd angles possible on some very unimportant positions involving the Mac market. Mainstream journalists have largely foregone their attacking positions on Apple during the last 6-18 months, and I had thought we had left this kind of ridiculous crap behind. Then again, it will garner readers for the piece, and reactionary pieces like my own will only further that.

From MACWORLD Expo in San Francisco, I will see you next week when I grade my own Keynote predictions.

Your comments are welcomed.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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