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DEBBIE POYSER: Apple Problems

Sounding Off By Debbie Poyser
Published March 2000

DEBBIE POYSER: Apple Problems

Debbie Poyser has just about had it with Apple. Here she explains why, before going off to buy a new G4.

Way back in the May 1992 issue of Sound On Sound, the then Mac Notes columnist Kendall Wrightson had this to say about Apple in his very first column: "In 1986, after years of scrimping and saving, a musician friend of mine purchased his first computer — a Mac Plus. To celebrate this wise decision, Apple promptly reduced their prices by 10 percent. Earlier this year the same fellow 'invested' in a Mac Classic II. A month later, Apple decided to supply said computer with a free Stylewriter, equivalent to a 30 percent price reduction." This example of Apple shooting their loyal customers in the foot sounds kind of familiar to those of us who have stuck with this admittedly wonderful platform over the years.

Apple are riding high at the moment, buoyed by the runaway success of their stylish iMacs. The company's share price has gone mental and the whole world seems to be going translucent and fruity to match the iMac. But it's not all rosy in the Apple garden (or should that be orchard?) for serious Apple users who need a pro‑spec desktop machine rather than a cute style accessory.

For a start, other than the iMac, current Macs remain resolutely high‑priced when compared to powerful IBM compatibles — and there seems to be no such thing as price competition in the Mac market. Late last year, with the credit limit on my Visa card braced for a sizeable investment in a G4, I couldn't help stopping with a wistful sigh in front of a sleek black Hewlett‑Packard PC in Dixons — fast, compact, and complete with everything, including a vanishingly slim LCD screen, all for around what I was about to pay for the G4 CPU alone. I don't want to go PC, but price can be a powerful argument, especially to a person who recently watched the cost of a coveted Apple LCD screen increase by £300 practically overnight. Catching sight of Computer Shopper also causes a bit of a pang: here in the UK a 550‑600MHz PC setup typically comes with 128Mb RAM, 20Gb hard drive, digital camera, colour printer, scanner, TV tuner, and software bundle, all for £1400 including VAT. People more knowledgeable than I about the differences between a fast Mac and a fast PC will no doubt be sitting down at their Macs right now to write a letter putting me in my place. I can only say what I see, and that's loyal Mac users sticking with Apple despite the fact that the company turn over their product range so fast that it's nigh impossible to keep up, in the process slashing the value of our multi‑thousand pound investments in their computers. Obviously, PC specs and speeds change rapidly too, but at least you can usually upgrade a PC economically in line with new developments.

Nevertheless, I was prepared to stump up for a sexy graphite G4 (still am), but then Apple's little mishap with processor speeds and motherboards happened and scared me off. All processor speeds for the new range were cut by 50MHz, with no corresponding price cut! (Apple showed their genius for customer service yet again when they initially announced that anyone who had ordered a 500MHz G4 in advance couldn't have one for the foreseeable future, and would anyway have to give Apple $300 more than the price they'd originally been asked to pay.) G4s became as scarce as hens' molars, and the few 350MHz machines that did appear featured what were apparently just modified G3 motherboards! Hard cheese for anyone who didn't know what was happening and bought one anyway. Now that the real G4s are actually becoming available in reasonable quantities (though still no 500MHz machines here in the UK), we find that Apple have improved the spec of the 350MHz model in various ways, including replacing the CD drive with the more up‑to‑date DVD drive. Even harder cheese for owners of the 'imitation' 350MHz G4s, who must be feeling a bit like Kendall's mate. We've now got at least one Mac magazine pronouncing that the proper 350MHz G4s look like a real bargain, at the same price as the G3/G4 hybrid. Maybe, but mainly because the previous ones were bolloxed!

Apple's latest PR triumphs include scrapping their UK Mac show to concentrate on the Paris‑based European Apple Expo, and cutting the marketing staff of their UK office by half, with further redundancies rumoured. Musicians are used to being the poor relation when it comes to consideration by computer manufacturers — Apple's decision to save a few quid by leaving off the floppy drives from their newer machines is still causing music software developers and users hassle. But now British Mac users as a whole are going to suspect that Apple think they're insignificant. Well, we might be a small group of users, but we're influential users on the world stage. How would you like it if we all swapped to PCs, Apple?

People like me — musicians, media types, publishing professionals — kept Apple going through some pretty lean years when they seemed lost in the woods. Now that Apple have got it so good, isn't it payback time? How about channelling some of those vast iMac profits into reducing the prices of G4s and their successors?