As much as the Mac has been marketed as “the computer for the rest of us,” their definition of “us,” as often or not, was regarded as the well-heeled through much of the company’s history. Indeed, the progenitor of the first Mac, the Apple Lisa, cost roughly ten grand, way beyond the budgets of most people who might have been the product’s target audience.
Even at $2,500, the first Mac was considered a costly machine, considering that it came with very little software, and limited expandability. They say first impressions count for everything, and it’s quite possible Apple’s reputation for selling overpriced, underpowered hardware began then and there.
To be sure, after Steve Jobs was bounced from the company, executive greed resulted in keeping Macs expensive, so businesses seeking commodity hardware were easily shut out. Microsoft was only too happy to convinced them buy a cheap PC clone and struggle along with the various and sundry attempts to make the Windows “shell” function on its MS-DOS foundation.
I don’t want to say that Macs were necessarily bad way back when. I owned a number of them during the early days, and no other personal computer was as user-friendly, reliable and productive. And that’s before the mass market’s acceptance of the Internet, and the malware plague that engulfed the Windows platform.
Yes, some home users and most content creators came to adore their Macs, but you could hardly call that a mainstream audience. Apple’s bad rap over the years remained the same, that Macs were expensive playthings for the wealthy and there wasn’t enough software available. Business users? No company in its right mind would ever consider a Mac except for the eccentrics in its graphics department. They aren’t meant for “serious” work, such as spreadsheets and word processing.
One of the most important changes that Steve Jobs made when he took over as Apple CEO a decade ago was to get rid of the dead wood. As many executives were apt to do when fixing a troubled company, Jobs moved Apple back to its core business. Forget digital cameras, printers and even the Newton. Build the best personal computers on the planet and make them affordable for regular people.
So, in 1998, you could consider the first Bondi blue iMac, listing for $1,299, as quite affordable for an all-in-one computer, although it would take years for Apple to lose most of its reputation as building premium-priced hardware. Even today, some still believe the Mac is necessarily more expensive than a comparably equipped PC, but that’s no longer true.
For a time, though, it seemed as if the best Jobs could do, with all his pomp and circumstance, was to deliver flashy products and essentially keep Apple from shedding any more market share, although it did continue to drop for a while.
However, there has been a confluence of events that has made it possible for the Mac to, at long last, become a genuine mainstream product. I can’t say whether this was what Jobs and his cohorts at Apple planned this all along. Sometimes things just happen, and a smart executive will know how to take advantage of a good opportunity when it arises.
In this case, the opportunity came in a roundabout way, first with the iPod. Did Apple know they’d sell 100 million of those things in the space of a few years and come to own the digital music player market? Was that something they planned all along? Well, maybe they had hopes that it would ultimately expand to the Windows platform, and that iTunes would overtake the market and become a top-tier music retailer. But nobody is that smart. They were in the right place at the right time.
The iPod also gave PC users a direct exposure to Apple technology, and they were able to compare those gadgets to the growing misery of keeping Windows running properly. Microsoft also did its share to shoot itself in the foot, taking years to build Windows Vista, which has garnered a well-earned reputation as being slow, resource intensive, and unusually buggy. Many businesses just won’t touch it until the SP1 update, in the hope the most serious defects will be addressed. And, in fact, many customers order their new PCs with Windows XP, and will absolutely not accept Vista, at least for now.
In contrast, Macs seem to just purr along. Yes they’re far from perfect, but most of the ills that engulf the PC platform rarely occur on Macs. Spurred by extraordinary demand for Apple’s note-books, and growing demand for its desktops, the company has reportedly moved just behind Dell and HP in U.S. retail sales recently, and few are suggesting that Mac sales have reached a plateau.
Current expectations call for sales of over two million Macs in the current quarter alone, and calling them mainstream is no longer a pipe-dream. It’s a reality.
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