Apple Ad Response

by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally published in Our Computer Player, October 16,1992

You've probably seen them, if you've looked through any of the PC magazines these past few months. Apple's three pages of ads, looking very hand-printed and personal. Each of these presumably personal testimonies ends with a heart-felt "This is making it easier?" followed by Apple's response, "Then there's Macintosh".

Who are these ads meant for? Placing them in magazines aimed at PC users, it's obvious that the target is the potential Windows user. This seems to be Apple's new strategy, since their high-stakes, long-running lawsuit against Windows' creator, Microsoft, was blown out of the water. In past ads, Apple has taken a positive approach, pointing out Macintosh's power and ease of use.

In these ads, however, Apple seems to be trying to emulate George Bush in the 1988 election campaign: spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about your opponent, while staying quiet about your own position. Like all good propoganda, these ads contain a series of partial truths; let's look at the whole picture.

"All I really wanted to do was simplify my job" says Ad #1. A noble goal. We can all sympathize. We all sometimes feel that way working with computers (even Mac owners !) "So I bought Windows. I added extra RAM. I bought a bigger hard disk. I replaced my video card and monitor." Good for you. Windows certainly will run better and look nicer with all those upgrades. So, for that matter would a Mac. A local Mac dealer has signs up throughout the store suggesting that customers not even think about running the Mac's System 7 with less than 4 meg of memory. I have Windows running on one computer that's an old 6 mhz Compaq Deskpro 286 with 1152 kb of memory, a 30 meg hard disk, and a Hercules monochrome monitor. It can be done, but I wouldn't really recommend it.

"I bought a half-dozen new programs, installed a mouse, configured the system... " Yes, again, to get the most out of Windows, get Windows programs. Windows will run your old DOS programs, but if that's all you want to do, why bother? And then there's Macintosh. There too, with the addition of the SoftPC/SoftAT emulation software, you can run your old DOS software on a Mac (as Apple liked to point out in an earlier series of ads titled "Make your next PC compatible a Mac"). But for most users, that's an even bigger "why bother"? Obviously, if you buy a Mac, get Mac software. And as for configuring the system, most users find they can use Windows' automatic installation, where all they need to do is feed in disks, and choose a printer. Yes, Windows will often run better with some fiddling... so will plain DOS, or for that matter, a Mac.

"... and as I sit here watching my spreadsheet crawl on my PC, I'm thinking to myself, "This is making it easier"?" Again, another half truth. Graphical environments, such as Windows or Macintosh, must do more work to draw a screen than a standard, text-only DOS program. Excel, under Windows, will often seem slower than 1-2-3 or Quattro-Pro under DOS. Of course, so will Excel on a Mac. And comparisons reported in MacUser showed that Excel running under Windows ran faster than Excel on a Mac. (PC Magazine reported similar results for PageMaker 4, doing desktop publishing on both platforms). And unless he had the minimal setup I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't report any of my spreadsheets as "crawling" under Windows. Finally, if our poor user had gotten an accelerated video card when he was upgrading hid video, he'd find significant speedups running his work under Windows.

Let's go on to page two. Different hand-printing. Another Windows horror story, I suppose. "I Feel Like I'm Being Pecked To Death By Ducks". Nice phrase, that. "At $149.95 per PC, Windows sounded like a deal. Then I bought all new programs at about $500 a pop". If that's how this guy is shopping, it's no wonder he feels so bad. Anyone paying $149.95 (US) for Windows is being robbed. And if we're to think he's going to Windows from DOS, why'd he pay $500 per program, when he could take advantage of the 'competitive upgrade' programs that all the major software companies are offering? These let users of DOS products switch to Windows products for $100-$150 each? You don't even have to phone the company--- most software dealers have these packages right on their shelves. Of course, if you buy a new computer, say a Mac, then you'd need to get all new software at $500 a pop.

"I shelled out a couple hundred per machine for extra memory". Good idea. See System 7 example above. "I ponied up $300 each for networking cards." If you didn't have them already, that's what you'd need to do. True, the Mac comes with built in AppleTalk network support, but that's a slow, limited networking capability. To attach your new Mac to your existing office network, you'd have to (yep), buy expensive networking cards. "The mouse ran $100 and a bigger hard disk ran $275". I just bought a bunch of mice for the machines at my work for $18 each. But yes, you can pay $100 for a mouse. But Apple never mentions that the Mac is the only computer I've ever seen where the KEYBOARD is not included in the package ! "And as I stare at the invoice for what it's going to cost me to connect them all together, I think to myself, "This is making it easier"?"

Hey -- nobody ever said networking would make it 'easier'! More productive, sure. But easier? That's why companies hire network managers -- to have somebody to take the flack.

Finally, the last ad, titled "Sitting in coach between two sumo wrestlers, (I pull out my laptop)". This one is almost true. The new Mac portables, with their built in trackballs, are easier to use than a PC with a clip-on 'mini-mouse'. And lots of portable PCs DO have screens that "flicker at me like a dim bulb". (We'll ignore the new generation of colour-VGA portable screens (for PCs only) that are getting more and more affordable). The PowerBook series are nice machines, but somewhat periperal to the main thrust of this series of ads.

In this series of ads, we're comparing (sorry, I can't resist) Apples and oranges. Starting new by getting a Mac vs. converting your existing computer to a networked, Windows system. You can go out and buy a new Mac, all equipped with lots of memory, a good-sized hard-drive, a mouse, a keyboard, high-end video, third-party network support, and built-in sound capabilities. You
can also go buy a new PC and get it with all the right features and Windows pre-loaded to start up when you boot up.
And there's the rub... Windows and the Mac are similar enough in capability, and more and more running the same software to have Apple scared. They're in a difficult situation; the Mac is technically a superior machine -- it's operating system is more elegant and easier to use than Windows'. Despite recent price cuts, the Mac remains significantly pricier than comparable, or even more powerful PC clones. Apple no longer has a monopoly on easy to use, graphical computing -- it's being dragged into a competitive marketplace where price is an important factor in buyer's decisions. And it doesn't like it.

IBM, Compaq, Zenith, and the other high-priced PC companies, have been dragged unwillingly into the price-cutting competition of this new reality. Apple has tried to stay out of it, feeling that it wasn't selling the same product. They seem to be realizing that this is no longer the case, but are trying a strategy of misleading advertising, rather than try to live with lower prices. While the Mac is a great computer, I don't believe that Apple's current marketing strategy will benefit the company or the computer user.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan