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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

iMac - The Next Generation, A Merchandizing Opportunity?
October 29th, 1999

Yesterday we ran a story about a new clock from Timex that looks exactly like an iMac (we also ran a followup story today with images of the product). It's a "spittin' image," as it were. One can hope the image was licensed from Apple, but in any event, this product signals the dawning of a new and different age. One in which a computer has somehow become more than a computer, more even than a pop-icon. Indeed, the iMac may have become a bona-fide cultural phenomenon.

Think about it for a moment. Timex is making a device that looks like a computer. And not just any old standard, run-of-the-mill computer, it looks like an iMac. It is an iMac. I can't recall seeing a pencil sharpener made in the image of a Dell Dimension XPS T500, but maybe I haven't been looking in the right places (if you know of one, or something like it, let me know). This crosses into new territory completely unexplored by computing's corporate powers.

Look at this past Halloween for another example. We ran a story on a young boy who made an iBook costume with his mother. Last year he went as an iMac. The closest thing we can find from the PC world is some punk kid who went as a "computer running Windows 98." Not a Gateway Essential 500 Deluxe or an eTower from eMachines, he went as a generic computer running Win 98. I hope I never sink so low in life that I seek to masquerade myself as some flavor of Windows. It's sad, really.

We have all seen the impact that the iMac, and its fruity color scheme, has had on the computing world. See-through colored plastic reigns supreme on many USB devices, even those targeted at the PC world. Indeed, the iMac's design has even made an impact on PCs themselves. The eOne from eMachines (a.k.a. the e-one from SOTEC), and other iMac wannabes, have finally hit the market, though it is still hard to believe it took the PC wanks so long to get there.

We have seen iMac-like plastic in non-computer related products too. There are clear blue hand-held vacuum cleaners, irons, and other consumer goods, but this iMac alarm clock represents something new altogether; Merchandising. This has nothing to do with whether Apple licensed the image to Timex either. That issue is still cloudy at best as Apple has remained largely mum and Timex won't return our phone calls. What remains is the fact that Timex can make money on this, whether or not they licensed the look. I find this absolutely amazing because it shows that Apple could license the iMac's image if they wanted.

If a company thinks it can make money producing a product that looks like the iMac, Apple can in turn make money with those kinds of merchandizing fees.

I am not actually advocating that Apple do this. On the one hand, it could help Apple continue to make inroads into the consumer market. On the other hand, it could devalue the iMac's distinctive look. I imagine that some combination of both would happen. The point of this column is not to push this concept, but rather to explore it as an amazing phenomenon.

Merchandizing is something we usually associate with movies, pop-stars, and even books. It is not something we associate with computers. Sure, we have had t-shirts, caps, beach towels, and mousepads from computer companies for many years, especially from Apple, which has the most unique following of any company on the planet. But the Timex clock goes off in a new direction.

The choice of a retail outlet is also very curious. Staples is not known for supporting Macs. In fact, they don't even carry Mac software. Yet here they are hawking a cute little alarm clock that looks like an iMac. They are definitely not selling it to a Mac crowd, but maybe we should redefine the Mac crowd.

Now we are back to the phenomenon thing. Has the iMac become so big that it could rank with Mickey Mouse and Woody from Toy Story? Can you see the iMac Action Figure? Complete with peripherals?

"What iMac is complete without the Epson 740I and the PowerUSB Hub?"

We could have his friend iBook too of course, with "Real Closing Lid!"

Elo Touch Systems could get in on the act with the "Super Touch Sensitive iMac."

"Touch his screen and watch it change!"

OK, I am getting carried away, but I think my point stands. Apple has created a product so powerful, it is gaining a life of its own outside Apple or the Mac faithful, outside of even computing. I would not be surprised to see iMac or iMac-like cookie jars popping up. I know I would buy one, and so would Suzy-homemaker. That kind of mind-share may represent the ultimate triumph for Apple.

Your comments and hate mail can be sent to backpage@macobserver.com. You can also voice your thoughts at The Back Page Forum. Let the world know what you think!


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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