My Turn

Further Reflections on the Low Cost Mac


My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

This is the first time in the history of My Turn that we've published a mailbag column, but with the level of email received in response to Monday's Resurrecting the Low Cost Mac by Ben Wells, it seemed the right time to do our first My Turn Mailbag.

Dan Knight, publisher

From David:

Ben Wells makes some interesting arguments, but his automobile analogies are not quite applicable.

I don't know what part of the world Mr. Wells lives in, but some Japanese sedans here in So. Cal. are very expensive and extremely well built. Depending on the particular manufacturer and model, they are as well engineered or better than their German counterparts (cf. Lexus). It is true that at the very high-end, the Benzs dominate, but this is rarely a quality issue but rather one of branding and service (at those prices, service better be good!)

Apple's Mac computers are more like Jaguars than Benzs. They look good, and have a brand association, but the mechanics are not the best in the world, and in fact, some models have to be taken into the shop every month for servicing (cf. eMacs, iMacs, transformer issues, adapter issues, etc.)

For most people, Toyotas work and ride extremely well, and are priced realistically. Why, oh why, would they want to pay the price of a Lexus or Benz, much less that of a Jaguar, when all they want to do is move from point A to point B in reasonable comfort, safety, and style? It is not as if they are resigning themselves to driving in golf-carts.

Similarly, most people I have talked to who use Windows on inexpensive machines say that all they want to do is surf the Web, do some word processing, and play a few games. With Win2k (but not Win98, and definitely not WinMe), the Toyota analogy fits - good solid performance, decent stability, reasonable price. Why, oh why, would they want to switch to a Jaguar and pay an enormous premium to obtain a car whose engine goes kaput and whose parts are expensive and difficult to obtain?

Even with a lower price from Apple, I believe that given the current Win stability, and pervasiveness, there will be very little incentive for most people to switch platforms. Unlike expensive foreign cars which maintain an air of sophistication, Macs are often derided as computers for "dummies". The only hope for salvation is that MS p*sses everyone off so much that they will send people in droves looking elsewhere. My observation is that MS manages to p*ss people off just enough to get what they want but not enough to send them packing. I doubt this will change.

From Bill Doty:

These are my thoughts on the recent articles about low cost Macintosh computers.

First, bring the iMac price tag to $450, make it a nice shade of blue that says hello when its turned on. CD read only; no CD burner or DVD. 10 GB hard drive, 128 MB RAM, 600 MHz G3 processor, built in 56k modem, 17" screen, USB ports no FireWire, OS 10.2 and 9.2, make it directly networkable to a windows PC. Mom and dad will buy it for the kids (and the schools will buy them by the hundreds for computer lab.)

Second, do not drop OS 9.2 from education market computers. Schools run a pathetic mix of software, and if your new Mac can't run the old software, those schools that haven't already switched to cheap PCs will.

Third, develop OS 10.2 for Windows PCs. Design it like 10.2/9.2 is now. The PC would be able to switch operating systems like my G4.

Fourth, recruit more dealers. Go after local dealers, not necessarily the big electronics chain stores. Train them in build to order and let them service the education market. School boards like to buy local and trust local service people.

Fifth, Apple should make more of their own software. Virus checkers, utility programs. Develop a software package tailored for the intended home market. Bill Gates et al realized long ago that the money is in software, not hardware.

Lastly - now for the hat trick: It's time to license the operating system. Do it now while you have a superior product, work with licensees, and don't screw them (like last time).

Any idiot with a screwdriver can build a PC. Modern Macs use almost all the same parts as PCs. We are rapidly approaching the day when there will be no mechanical difference between the PC and the Mac. Apple can gain market share, but they have to be aggressive. They have to decide if there is more money in selling two BMWs or if there is more money in selling 1000 Chevys.

From E McCann:

I've been reading the cube/no cube/low cost Mac for schools items with interest, and something ended up coming to me:

The Quadra 605. Tiny, sure. Needs an external display. Sure. Cheap...?

Take the G3 iMac "gumdrops," cut off the CRT, possibly go for the external [power] brick, and what you have sitting in front of you looks amazingly similar. With a CD-RW instead of a floppy, and speakers in the front.

Take the latest idea of selling laptop 12" and 14" screens separately (give some secure, built in mount to them) and, for general use, you've got what could well be a cheap, school-lab or classroom Mac. Set up an upgraded (G4) version for areas that *really* need it (video production classes, teacher units). Other than that, is a G4 *really* needed for en masse paper typing, 'net searching, and the like?

I hope to post more personal thoughts on this issue next week. I really like some of the ideas I'm seeing posted on Low End Mac and elsewhere. I do wonder, though, whether some sort of low-cost Mac design convergence here on the Mac Web has any chance of impacting the people at One Infinite Loop who make the decisions.

Keeping my fingers crossed that we do make a difference.

Dan Knight, publisher

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