By John Gruber
Atoms: We are not selling shoes this time…
Following up on a few points from last week’s “Dell’s Dud”:
Several readers took issue with my brief synopsis of Apple’s general failure to capture a sizable chunk of the corporate desktop market in the 1980s. Given that we’re talking about decisions that were worth tens of billions of dollars, any attempt to briefly summarize the situation is going to gloss over many of the finer points. There were a lot of factors, and anyone who glibly claims that Apple could have been Microsoft if they had simply done this and this instead of that and that is naive.
My point wasn’t that Apple didn’t want the Mac to succeed in the corporate market. And, I could very well be wrong about whether Apple’s executives underestimated the potential size of the corporate market. Guy Kawasaki’s excellent book The Macintosh Way is the definitive inside look at Apple’s early Mac marketing. Rich Siegel emailed to point out the following passages from pp 77-78, as proof that Apple did have the corporate market in mind. Kawasaki wrote:
A ten-word description in the Macintosh Product Introduction Plan explained the details of Macintosh to The Cult. Apple clearly communicated its product, and The Cult communicated this message to the marketplace. This is the ten-word description of Macintosh:
Macintosh is an advanced personal productivity tool for knowledge workers.
“Advanced” referred to Lisa technology. Lisa technology brought to Macintosh a user interface (pull-down menus, windows, desktop metaphor), bitmapped graphics, and integrated applications. […]
“Personal” meant that Macintosh was designed for personal use on a desk. A Macintosh was much lighter and smaller than an IBM PC, and it was going to improve information processing with a person, not the computer or MIS department, in control.
“Productivity tool” meant increasing the productivity of a Macintosh owner. Macintosh was a tool to improve analysis, problem-solving, and communication with applications like word processors, spreadsheets, business graphics, database management, and project scheduling.
“Knowledge workers” delineated the target market for Macintosh. Frankly, the phrase is marketing malarkey but it worked because it made people feel like part of a small elite group. The phrase caused people to align themselves to Apple’s marketing, and they persuaded themselves to buy Macintoshes. After all, who would want to be an “ignorance worker?”. It is easier for the market to align itself than for you to do it.
The third and fourth points — regarding the Mac being a “productivity tool” for “knowledge workers” — indeed make the Macintosh sound like an ideal business machine. But the second doesn’t exactly sound appealing from the perspective of the IT department. (MIS is just what they called IT back then.)
And that’s precisely the point I was trying to make — that Apple targeted the Macintosh to the people who would use them, but not to the people who would decide whether to buy them. Or, more specifically, the people who would authorize buying them for large corporations. In every other potential market, the Macintosh was a stellar success.
Kawasaki offers the following rhetorical exercise on p 77:
Apple wanted to sell Macintoshes to people who had never used computers before. Which customer group would you expect Apple to concentrate on?
A. Fortune 1000 MIS directors
B. IBM PC owners
C. Knowledge workers
D. Amazon indians
Apple chose C; and Kawasaki presents the premise as a “pick one” choice. What I’m suggesting — which is admittedly glib and oversimplified — is that Apple could have chosen both C and A. (Which is in fact what they’re doing today, with Mac OS X.)
For more information on how Sony, the record company, is like a weight attached to the ankles of Sony, the electronics company, see Frank Rose’s article in the February 2003 issue of Wired, “The Civil War Inside Sony”:
And a Walkman with a hard drive? Not likely, since Sony’s copy-protection mechanisms don’t allow music to be transferred from one hard drive to another — not an issue with the iPod. “We do not have any plans for such a product,” says [Sony senior VP Keiji] Kimura, the smile fading. “But we are studying it.”
Really? No plans? When the world leader in consumer electronics takes a pass on the hottest portable music player out there, you have to wonder what gives. Sony became a global giant on the basis of innovative devices manufactured by the millions on nothing more than a hunch that people would buy them. Now Apple is delivering the innovation while Sony studies the matter.
Finally, Jay Simon emailed, asking why, if my wife’s long-since-abandoned Rio MP3 player had 128 MB of memory, it only held “a whopping 11 songs”. Ends up it had only 64 MB of memory. Sorry for any confusion.