They’re calling the $100 million advertising campaign Apple Computer has planned for its new iMac computer the most dazzling product introduction ever. That’s something, when you consider the hullabaloo that surrounded the debut of the Macintosh, or the fact that when Windows 3.0 was introduced a Smith Barney analyst called it “the most anticipated product in the history of the world,” or Gillette’s massive new ad campaign for its Mach 3 razor. But either way, it’s safe to say that iMac arrives with more fanfare than your typical new PC.
Much of that fanfare is deserved. The computer is spectacular in appearance, remarkably fast for a $1299 machine, and simple to set up and use. And the problems that iMac critics have mentioned–most notably the absence of a floppy disk drive–are real but not serious. The iMac is an excellent starter PC, and a welcome step toward the further aestheticization of the desktop.
Unfortunately, Apple has not been content to leave it at that. Instead, in its own inimitable fashion, the company has decided to trumpet the iMac as a revolutionary new product, “the first really new computer in a long, long time,” which is to say the first really new computer since the Macintosh. And while the overdone rhetoric can be attributed in part to the exigencies of advertising–the soft-sell has never gone over too well in the computer industry–it also reflects Apple’s continued curious insulation (and isolation) from the rest of the world. If the text in the 11-page iMac advertising insert in last week’s Business Week is any indication, Apple believes we’re all still living back in 1988, when PCs were expensive, ugly, and hard to hook up.
Take what the text describes as the iMac’s “greatest power,” which is the fact that you can bring it home, take it out of the box and be surfing the Net in “less than ten minutes.” That’s certainly a very nice attribute, but how rare is it, really? Generally, when you buy a PC today, all you have to do is hook up the monitor to the tower (which contains the CPU), plug in the power cord and the modem, and you, too, can be on the Net in just a little while. The iMac saves you a couple steps because the monitor and the CPU are all in one box, but it’s not as if hooking up a PC is brain surgery anymore. Now, Windows 95 or Windows 98 may not be paragons of simplicity, but does anyone really need what Apple calls a “thick installation manual” to turn on a PC?
Similarly, Apple describes the monitor as “spacious” and “very high-res,” although it’s just a 15” display with 1024x768 resolution, which is pretty much standard for any desktop today. (If anything, 17” monitors are becoming the industry standard.) And calling a 4-gigabyte hard disk “extremely big” isn’t really right, either, since top-of-the-line PCs now come with 8.4-gig drives. The text also contrasts the iMac’s keyboard with “the cheesy keyboard you get with most home computers.” I don’t know. The keyboard that came with my Toshiba is hardly an aesthetic triumph, but “cheesy”?
The iMac is a cool new product, and all indications are that Apple is going to sell a lot of these computers in the next year. And anything I write about Apple should be taken with a grain of salt, since about a year ago I wrote a piece critical of Steven Jobs’ business tactics and in the year since the company’s stock has tripled. But there are good reasons why Apple’s market share has continued to shrink even as the company has returned to profitability, and not all of the reasons have to do with Bill Gates. In continuing to act as if the rest of the world has not woken up to the importance of ease and aesthetics, Apple ends up believing that a product that’s just kind of cool is really so amazing that people will simply have to buy it.