Many TidBITS readers responded to Adam's article "Apple in 1998: Retreat or Focus?" that appeared last week in TidBITS-416 and covered some of Apple's recent business decisions and restructuring actions. Although comments varied, most letters focussed on three things: Apple's presence in retail stores, the price of a Macintosh, and Apple's latest television ad campaign.
Scott Coats <email@example.com> offers some background on how Apple hired people to maintain Macs in at least some major retail stores:
Apple for years subcontracted responsibility for maintaining the Performa line (Sears, CompUSA, etc.) to AAPRs (Apple Authorized Product Reps) who were hired and trained by ADIA, a temp agency. Hiring was done over the phone by asking such minimal questions as "How do you check to see how much RAM a Mac has?" The training consisted of a three-ring binder of outdated sales materials and a subscription to the Apple MailBox program. With absolutely no incentive to keep up to date, there was little reason to believe the field reps were doing so. As a participant in the program, I can assure you the training received and level of supervision were dismal at best. AAPRs were paid a flat $15 per stop, regardless of the time spent at the store. For Apple to farm out the representation of their product was negligent and no doubt contributed to the hard feelings between retailers and Apple.
Price, Price, Price -- Though Apple has been taking steps to reduce the cost of Macintosh models (I recently helped an acquaintence on a tight budget get a respectable PowerPC-based system with a monitor and color printer for about $1,200), the price of a new Mac still makes Apple uncompetitive in the eyes of some TidBITS readers. Mark Kessler <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
Go to your local dealer or the online Apple Store and see what $1,800 will buy. Look at power, storage capacity, monitor size, software bundle, modem, warranty, printer, and anything else they offer. Then go to your local Best Buy and see what $1,800 will buy. Compare point by point.
Now pretend you're not a computer professional: you just want a machine that does your word processing and spreadsheets, plays games, and surfs the Internet. Best Buy offers dozens of PCs at all price points with all sorts of configurations, plus there are four or five aisles of accessories and another six or eight aisles of software. Say an earnest young salesperson steers you toward a Macintosh (this is hypothetical, so bear with me): you're intrigued until you see the price, and that's only for the CPU! When you add an Apple monitor and an Apple printer, a new Macintosh is a price gouge. With the PC you can select from a variety of products from a variety of vendors. With a Macintosh, you essentially get Apple or you get nothing. If you're willing to pay for all that, good luck to you. I will never spend another penny on Apple merchandise. It's literally not worth it.
Similarly, David Howe <email@example.com> notes price is also a consideration for Mac users internationally:
In my part of the world, owning a Mac is considered quaint. Canberra is Australia's capital and houses the head office for every government department. Without exception all of these departments (some of whom spend a lot of money on information technology) are PC-based. The daily reality here is that the cheapest Intel-based machine costs about half as much as the cheapest new Mac, and though the Intel boxes are clunky, ugly machines, they can be made to work.
Although I still see Macs predominate in the print and advertising worlds, Windows NT is making its mark there too. My own profession - TV production - could have been an Apple domain, but pricing is a factor and the variety of non-Mac systems available is undermining Apple's advantages. Frankly, I believe Apple is guilty of being too greedy.
Snail Mail -- Apple's advertisements comparing Pentium II systems to Power Mac G3s continue to produce positive responses, with some readers even indicating the ads are generating interest from Windows users. Rick Holzgrafe <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote about possible tactics behind Apple's new ad campaign:
In discussing Apple's new "snail" ad, Adam wondered whether speed is what the average consumer really wants. It probably isn't, but that's not the point. John Sculley (remember him?) raised Pepsi from obscurity to equal standing with Coca-Cola by means of "taste test" ads. The real purpose of those ads was not to convince America that Pepsi was better than Coke; it was to establish Pepsi and Coke as peers - and it worked. The "snail" ad probably has the same hidden agenda. The main purpose is to get people to think of both Intel-based machines and Macs when they think "PC," and break the stranglehold on mindshare the Windows world currently enjoys. The message "Macs are better" is secondary; the message "Macs are okay" is primary. I expect more ads along these lines, each pointing out one simple, clear reason why Macs are better but mainly driving home the point that you don't have to buy a Windows machine; there's a choice.