Mac Scope

The Mac User's Blind Spot

Stephen Van Esch - Sept. 27, 2000

I'll admit this up front: I am an Apple booster. I think the OS and hardware are fantastic and that most people would enjoy using a Mac.

Being this way automatically places me in a certain category of computer user. Mac heads tend to take their computers fairly seriously and have an arsenal of reasons why they think the Mac is a better platform.

This excitement and interest in and about the Mac extends to the company that produces the machines. Apple, while not perfect, is usually considered an excellent company.

This interest in the Mac platform also introduces several blind spots regarding Apple and the Mac. A glaring example of this appeared when Apple released the public beta of OS X. Public beta? Fine. $30 for the beta? Fine as well.

Say what? Pay Apple $30 to test their software?

Even if you ignore the fact that Apple offers no rebate to beta testers when the final version comes out, it's still a gyp. Unfortunately, protests are few and far between. Contrast this willingness with the disbelief that people would pay to play with the Win98 beta when it was released a couple of years ago, and it's clear that many Mac users may be holding two standards in one head.

So, Apple makes a killing on software that isn't even ready for prime time. Beyond that, Apple dips twice into the trough.

Currently, the buzz is building for OS X. Beyond getting users to shell out for beta software, Apple is also getting reams of publicity for the beta release. Normally this isn't a problem. Software makers often make preview copies available to software developers for testing purposes and software creation. The software developers occasionally write up their impressions, both good and bad. Ars Technica has had a particularly good series regarding OS X.

This is usually not the best way to build publicity. Ars and publications like it are not geared toward the consumer and are usually too technical for the average Joe to follow.

With the beta release, everybody and their grandmother are posting their impressions all over the place. This is both good and bad. Positive press can't do anything but help Mac users and the platform - making users pay and then getting free publicity from them is another matter. $30 in their pocket and millions more in free publicity.

Why didn't Apple offer the OS X beta for free to publications that would be publishing reviews or testing results? These publications are doing Apple a favor, after all. Even if their ad revenue depends on new articles and information, it's their eyeballs that get the buzz building.

As for the Joe who just wants a peek at the latest and greatest, sell it at a reasonable price. Sure, $30 doesn't seem like much, but when it costs $2 to press the CD, charging $10 will still net Apple a pretty decent profit.

Ultimately, I think Apple knows that people are just begging to have their wallets picked over OS X. We've waited for so long for this operating system that, for many people, $30 for a sneak peek is chicken feed.

Apple knows our blind spot and is clearly willing to exploit it.

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