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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

Why iMac Knockoffs Are Good For Apple
August 13th, 1999

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Fred Allen

Being a leader can mean many things and carry many prices. When one is a leader, one is often admired. People and companies will watch your actions in an effort to see what they themselves should do. Your word will usually carry great weight. The price is that one's actions, designs, and ideas will be copied.

It is inevitable. It is the way the free market works, though it is not always right. Being ripped off hurts no matter how big you are, and that includes Apple Computer, and by extension, the legion of Mac fanatics who care deeply about their computers and the company that makes them.

For the first time in many years Apple is being copied by the PC world. In fact, not since Microsoft first used Apple's concepts for a GUI has Apple been used as a template for the future to the degree they are now. I am referring to the ePower from Future Power and the eOne from eMachines, both knockoffs of the iMac.

This is a horrible thing, isn't it? I mean, the evil PeeCee companies have shown once again that they are uncreative and have to resort to ripping "us" off once again! Haven't they done this enough? Gosh darn it, this makes us (read: Mac users) MAD!

The reality is that it actually gives us an overt reason to feel superior again. It makes us smug. It shows that we are, in fact, rightful! We knew it all along, didn't we? We told you so!

To get right down to the nuts and bolts of the issue: Despite knowing in our hearts and minds for all these years that we were using a superior computer and a superior operating system, many of us have had at least a smidgen of a doubt that maybe we were wrong.

Maybe not "wrong," but we have all felt the oppression when we walked into a computer store and saw row after row of crappy PC software and little or no software for our superior Macs. We have all felt the frustration when confronted with an ignorant PC sales person, or talked to someone who says that Apple stole the MacOS from Microsoft. Most of us have felt that hollow feeling that everyone else just doesn't get it and why can't they just understand?!? The overwhelming success of Windows can be daunting sometimes, and that can even lead to private moments where we ask ourselves if there might not be something to that success.

Not anymore. Apple is back, gaining market share, and the iMac is selling like hotcakes. This has, in turn, eradicated any trace of that wavering doubt for most Mac users (we still get occasional letters from Mac users who look around them and still seem to feel helpless in the face of the Wintel onslaught). Why is that?

It is because being copied like this puts Apple back into the unquestionable role of market leader and innovator. This is tantamount to the PC world issuing a press release that says "Apple knows what they are doing and we don't. This frightens us, and so we will imitate what we cannot conquer."

Think about it. When a potential PC customer is looking at an eOne or the ePower (if it actually ships), they will say to themselves or ask a sales person: "Hey, this is like the iMac, right?" While many PC sales persons have said in the past that Windows 95/98 was as good as a Mac, it was said with some disdain. Now that PC companies are copying the iMac, this is an even stronger affirmation of the Mac/iMac's superiority. This will have an increasingly important effect on the computer buying public in the future, and though many will be duped into buying the iMac knockoffs, they will not get an iMac experience.

Therein lies the greatest and perhaps only danger to Apple and the Mac market. Those that get a poor experience (i.e. a typical PC experience) may associate that experience with the iMac. But I think the vast majority of them will think "I should have gotten an iMac." Isn't that a powerful thought? "I should have gotten an iMac." The words ring in my ears as I write them. I think there is little that Apple could do to provoke that kind of reaction from computer buyers. You can't buy PR like that and I think this will play well for Apple in the future once those computer users are ready to buy another computer.

Don't get me wrong. Apple stands on firm ground when suing eMachines or Future Power for dilution of trademark value. In fact, I think they will probably be able to win that lawsuit, though no one knows how long it may take. Even if they do not win, or for some reason choose not to sue, the long-term effect of the knockoffs will be to secure Apple's spot as the number one computer company.

Your comments and hate mail can be sent to [email protected].

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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