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ATPM 4.06
June 1998



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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Shore it’s a Good Idea

The longer days and warmer temperatures always take me back. Summer is at hand once again, and, as with most of us, that can only mean one thing:

Summer Vacation.

Well, it's been a while since I've had a legitimate summer vacation like I used to back in school. I don't know what happened, but somewhere along the line, somebody decided that having fun and relaxing were no longer good things for a young man like me to do. "Get a job," they said. "You'll enjoy your time off more when you work."

Yeah, great advice. Now, my summer vacation usually consists of the one day I can weasel off for Independence Day.

But, back in my salad days, I used to count on spending plenty of time pursuing leisure activities. The highlight of the summer used to be our annual trip to the Jersey Shore.

Every person who grows up in New Jersey lives for a trip to the shore. Even though lately the beaches may resemble a dumping ground for used hypodermic syringes, my childhood memories paint a different picture.

The one image that stands out clearest is the boardwalk at Seaside Heights. This place was--and still is--a mecca of tacky tourist traps and coronary-inducing food stands. And t-shirt shop after t-shirt shop.

There are so many t-shirt shops, in fact, that they all blur together. If you were having a heart attack after eating a plate of those cheese-laden french fries and you told the paramedics that you had collapsed in front of a t-shirt shop, but you didn't know its name, you had better make sure your will was up to date. There is no way they would find you in time.

Well, maybe except for one shop. There was a place, I can't remember it's name, but it became a great landmark. Rather than merely displaying its wares on hangers for people to see, the store owner dressed mannequins in the shirts, and then put them in some creative poses. I can distinctly remember one mannequin suspended over the store's entrance, bedecked in some tacky t-shirt, posed as if looking over its shoulder while swimming. Right behind him was a giant stuffed shark wearing a shirt that read, "Dinner is Served."

This gimmick really grabbed my attention, and, I have to admit, I broke down and bought a t-shirt from that place.

But, are gimmicks necessary a good idea for computer companies?

Specifically, I'm referring to the iMac, whose prototype was unveiled last month.

Back in the bad old DOS days, Macs were novel. They were fun to work with. And, they had the problem of being perceived as toys. After all, you clicked on icons and dragged things around a desktop. You didn't look at a C: prompt and wonder what the heck you had to type next. It took lots of convincing to sway business owners to accept the Macintosh as a serious computer and bring them into their offices.

Of course, we all know that while this was going on, Bill Gates saw the promise of the GUI. Not too much later, Windows made its big debut. Even so, DOS managed to rule the roost for a while longer. People who had clung stubbornly to their notions of what an operating system should look like resisted this new technology.

When you build a better mouse trap, though, you'll eventually catch more computer users. Windows, although flawed in design, was far easier to use and friendlier than DOS. Soon, everyone with a PC was converting to the new GUI. The perception had changed. Desktops, icons, and mice were now acceptable.

Apple, which has consistently failed to make the bold moves to maintain its market share, finds itself at a crossroad. The plan to counter the Windows '98 hype and re-enter the home computing market is to release the iMac.

OK, I get the idea that Apple wants to return to the 'information appliance' envisioned in the original all-in-one Macs. Make it easy for the user to unpack the computer and get to work in minutes. But seriously, a transparent aqua plastic body? A mouse that lights up? Are Steve Jobs and the rest of his design entourage trying to corner the five-to-eight-year-old users' market?

This thing looks just like a toy. And, I fear, it will fuel the fire of those who claim that Mac is still merely a toy.

Worst of all, it costs more than $1,000. This has become the magic number for computer manufacturers trying to appeal to budget conscious families seeking access to the benefits of owning a computer.

This is where it starts to get frustrating. People have recently started to see that Apple has life. However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that it's more than the cute, cuddly, smiling Mac at startup that was drawing consumers back to the product--it's the faster processors that run circles around Intel's offerings. It's the declining prices of older 604 and newer G3-powered machines in a product which has typically priced itself out of the market. It's software developers such as Adobe and Macromedia that have pledged their undying support for the platform and ones such as Intuit, which have seen the error of their ways and returned to the flock. It's regular operating system upgrades, which offer genuine improvements over the previous versions.

It's not the gimmicks.

I fear bad things with this new iMac coming out now. People who are big-time PC supporters ask me, "Gee, I wonder how much less that would cost without all the bells and whistles?" Even if the iMac didn't cost a dime less to be encased in a more traditional shell, the perception is that people are getting way more than they really wanted in the way of aesthetics and less than they really need in computing power.

Add on the obsolescence issue that rears its ugly head with all-in-one machines. OK, I still stick faithfully to my LC 580 at home. It plugs along with the '040 Rocket, as it's known in our house. I can, and have, added things to the SCSI chain such as an external CD-ROM drive and Zip drive. I can plug in ye olde StyleWriter and crank into action. But, say I come into some money and want a bigger monitor?

Oops, I'm sort of out of luck. The LC 580--just as with the new iMac--came with a built-in monitor. To add a new one, I have to lay my hands on a plug-in video card even before I go monitor shopping. With monitor technology improving all the time, I just might want to add an affordable LCD monitor in a year or two. The iMac looks like deja vu all over again.

What would have been a better solution? Call me nostalgic, but dang, the Performa line was a pretty good idea. You got it all in one box. Everything you needed to get started with a minimum of configuration. And is sure does sound a lot like what they do over at Gateway and Dell.

I mean, it's beautiful. You call your catalogue shop or stop by CompUSA. You say, "I want a Mac to do X, Y and Z." The friendly clerk either tells you over the phone or leads you to the product you want--a Performa. It's everything you need to get started right out of the box.

Does it have software? You bet.

A monitor? Yup. And a keyboard. And a neat disk full of software. And a modem.

It's modular, too. So if you want to upgrade, there is no problem with popping things off and plugging in new ones. And, it's tailored to the market that Jobs wants to reach with the iMac to boot.

So, you use the Performa for a while, and you get tired of the 15" monitor? You buy the 17" replacement and plug it in. Or, the modem gets a little funky. Go grab yourself a new one.

It all plugs into the back. Granted, you'd have a lot of cables running around back there, but it's a heck of a lot easier to replace peripherals than to bring the box to the local Mac authorized repair facility or--gasp--take a screwdriver to the case yourself.

Also, the folks who buy from that South Dakota company with the cow spots all over its box don't seem to mind having plain-Jane-looking computers. It's what they can do with them that catches their attention.

Maybe it's too late, but I for one would implore the Apple designers to reconsider the design of the iMac. Take the lead of companies that have seen success in marketing their products. Don't copy what they sell, just take the best ideas and incorporate them into your new design.

You know, that shirt that I bought fell apart the first time I washed it, just as people had warned me. Even though the gimmick worked to get me inside, the product was less than satisfying.

I hope that Steve Jobs didn't get his business training from a boardwalk t-shirt shop.

Blue Apple"Apple Cider" is © 1998 by Tom Iovino, <>.

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