The prospects for an entry-level Mac, which I am calling the iMac mini, has taken a life of its own. Even the mainstream press has picked up on the rumor, which is a surprising development indeed. Of course, Apple never comments on such things, and the fact that it’s closed for the holidays only fuels the fires.
Regular readers know that I’ve long been in favor of a $500 or $600 Mac to confront the Windows market head-on, and go for volume. The iPod has paved the way, and the rampant security problems afflicting those PC boxes has surely left millions disgusted with their choice of personal computers.
This all came home to me the other day, when I set up a wireless network for a client. I configured a Wi-Fi router (not an AirPort) and a brand new iBook to receive the signals in less than 10 minutes. A one-year old Gateway box didn’t fare as well, and a scan with spyware prevention software revealed at least 17 malware applications. I won’t even tell you how badly viruses had infected that computer, only to say that it was one big mess and, alas, fairly typical of the breed.
Into this breech, Apple can really move market share off dead center if it does the right thing. And a lot of us feel that right thing is that iMac mini. But having a cheap Mac is only one part of the equation. It can’t be consigned to near-invisibility as the eMac is now. Apple’s marketing people have to promote this thing at full throttle and then some.
Maybe it can take a few lessons from Bose. You encounter ads for the NEW Bose Wave music system almost everywhere. They’re on TV, radio and print, and you can’t avoid them. You know it’s supposed to have better sound, and that it has a slot-load CD drive and a miniature remote control. Of course, you don’t know till you try to order one that it’s probably the most expensive clock radio on the planet, priced at $499.00. Whether it’s better than anything else is questionable. Some feel you can buy superior products from Cambridge SoundWorks or Tivoli for a lot less.
Of course, we don’t really know how many Wave radios Bose actually sells. It’s a closely held company, and not obligated to tell anyone but the IRS how much money it earns.
On the surface, though, Bose appears to be quite successful. The key here is clever marketing that tells you in a very few words what the thing can do and about its superior sound quality. Bose downplays specs, and, in fact, only lists the size of the unit. The manual simply concentrates on how to use it, along with some basic troubleshooting advice. That’s all the customer evidently needs to know.
Can Apple learn something from this? Well, the iPod ads concentrate on “cool,” and it’s questionable whether that’s enough for a personal computer. But as others have suggested, showing the things you can accomplish with a Mac ought to be sufficient. Easy Internet access, music downloading, home movie editing and DVD creation. That’s enough for starters. You can almost see the simple, elegant ads that show people doing things with their Macs, perhaps with rapid cross-cuts from one person to another. It closes with “The Apple Macintosh, starting at just $499,” and fades into the Apple logo.
Another possible promotion is to emphasize the price. “Think you can’t afford a Macintosh? Think again. Introducing the iMac mini at $499,” and you can fill in the rest.
Now I don’t pretend to be an advertising executive, but I think if Apple emphasizes how the Mac empowers the user, and, one hopes, its new low price, that should be enough to get the message across. There’s no need to talk about processor speed, hard drive size, the type of graphics chip and all the rest. That can be left to the spec sheet, but, unlike the Bose radio, it’s important to let the user know about those critical details.
How this plays out, of course, depends on factors we don’t know about. You and I can imagine all sorts of potential advertising campaigns, but that’s up to the ad agency. No doubt they will come up with clever approaches that may not be obvious at first glance, but that’s what they make the big bucks to do.
In the end, though, does such a product make sense for Apple? During its last session with financial analysts, after releasing its most recent quarterly financials, Apple executives continued to throw cold water on the idea of an iMac mini or whatever you want to call it. And surely the profit margins for a $500 or $600 personal computer must be razor thin, unless a way can be found to reduce manufacturing costs to a lot less than we can imagine without sacrificing build quality. Or just take the chance that there will be enough public demand to increase production to a level where it really pays off.
There would also be the hope that these new Mac users could be persuaded to trade up over time to more expensive models, or simply purchase other Apple products to keep the coffers overflowing with cash.
Of course, we may all be whistling in the dark. Maybe it just won’t happen, but at least there’s something to talk about during what should otherwise be a pretty dull week in the computing world.
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