No one will accuse Apple of missing the hoopla boat with the iMac. The curvaceous new consumer-level Macintosh splashed down on Saturday, 15-Aug-98 amid a flurry of special events, clever PR stunts, and news coverage. We’ve been over the specs, problems, and chances of the iMac already, so here I want to relay a sampling of what I’ve seen and heard about the iMac.
Inflatable iMacs — Perhaps the largest representative of iMac hoopla was the 20-foot-high blimp in the shape of an iMac. Apple made 40, placing one at the Apple Campus and spreading the other 39 around the U.S. Another stunt, suggested by Michael Koidahl of Westwind Computing in Seattle, would have involved painting one of the new white VW Beetles to look like an iMac and having it make appearances at festivals. Unfortunately, funding fell through; perhaps another Apple reseller can make it happen.
150,000 Orders — Apple announced receipts of 150,000 orders for iMacs from 03-Aug-98 through 10-Aug-98, which is especially impressive since Apple reportedly changed stocking policies so resellers can’t return unsold iMacs. From what we’ve heard, resellers aren’t too worried about returns. One Seattle reseller said it had received 58 iMacs and had received orders for 20 by 2 PM on Saturday, and another went through its stock of 30 iMacs over the weekend.
Media Coverage — Perhaps the most important benefit the iMac has conveyed to Apple so far is to refocus media coverage back to products and positive news, rather than tedious stories about the "beleaguered Apple Computer." A friend in public relations recently commented that the constant armchair quarterbacking from the press was mostly because, to continue the football analogy, Apple wasn’t winning. Lose constantly and the inclination is to overanalyze everything, whereas if you’re winning everyone’s happy. Although Apple’s list of iMac coverage is undoubtedly carefully chosen, it’s still interesting.
USB and Ethernet — The primary criticism aimed at the iMac was the lack of familiar serial, ADB, and SCSI ports, plus the lack of a floppy drive (though one TidBITS Talk reader just reported a sighting of an "iMac+," with a built-in Zip drive, floppy drive, and 24x CD-ROM aimed at college students). Many manufacturers have announced or shipped solutions to these limitations, but the main gotcha that I suspect will become an opportunity for resellers is the one-time problem of transferring numerous files from a previous Macintosh to an iMac. Obviously, it’s helpful if the previous Macintosh has Ethernet, but if not, resellers could move data (via a LocalTalk/Ethernet bridge or other method) for iMac customers. For those keeping older Macs, networking via Ethernet provides a few less obvious options. For instance, Farallon sells a number of products to connect an iMac to network devices, and if you have a SCSI-based scanner or serial printer, you can use it from a networked iMac via Stalker Software’s ScanShare or LineShare. Send other interesting iMac connection solutions to TidBITS Talk at <[email protected]> and we’ll collect them in the TidBITS Talk Archive for later reference.
Advertising Blitz — Apple’s announcement of the iMac three months before it shipped was, in retrospect, a brilliant move because it created a vast amount of interest among consumers, even those without a computer. One source at a local reseller estimated that roughly 30 percent of the traffic over the weekend was new computer buyers. Apple has followed through by maintaining Web pages devoted to the iMac, emailing periodic iMac updates, and taking out radio and television advertising. Plus, Apple has committed over $100 million to future iMac advertising – the largest ad campaign in Apple’s history.
Go, iMac! If the iMac doesn’t sell, I’ll lose my faith that interesting, well-designed products can succeed, given half a chance. If something that’s seemingly so functional while breaking the beige mold can’t do well, we may as well give up on the belief that aesthetics, attitude, and the ability to inspire creativity matter in computing. The iMac takes us a step back in that direction after too many years of lockstep design marked by conformity, timidity, and insipidity.