August 1998: iMac Demo Days Special Report
(or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)
by Scott Rose, President of ScottWorld
My colleague Josh Rafofsky and I helped run the iMac Demo Days at the CompUSA in Culver City, California on Saturday, August 15th, 1998. This was my first time seeing the iMac, and it was also my first time seeing an Apple store-within-a-store. So I have quite a bit to say.
Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly:
First, the good news: People really responded to the look of the iMac. Even long-time Windows users couldn't help but peer through the crowds to get a glimpse at the iMac. I must admit -- the iMac is absolutely beautiful. It looks even better in person than it does in the advertisements. I couldn't help but rub my hands again and again over its smooth blue case, and customers were trampling over each other to touch the machine themselves. People were also thrilled with the low price, and couldn't believe that it was all inclusive for only $1,299 (editor's note: as of October 2000, iMacs are now $799).
And more good news: All 6 Apple volunteers were ultra-knowledgable about the Mac and the iMac... much more so than the CompUSA employees. It was absolutely brilliant for Apple to have all of us Mac addicts volunteer our time to help promote the iMac all over the nation. Okay, terrific. Now on to the stumbling blocks.
The biggest problem with the weekend festivities, as you can imagine, was that there were not enough iMacs to go around. CompUSA only had 46 iMacs to sell. 25 of those machines were pre-ordered, which only left us 21 on the floor. All 21 were sold out by 12:30pm (the store opened at 10:00am). The majority of customers who arrived after 12:30 pm seemed willing to sign up on the wait list until next week's iMac shipment, but it was very clear that at least 2 people I spoke to were in the mood to buy their very first computer this weekend. Period. They had finally saved up enough money, and they were now gonna go home with a computer today, come hell or high water. They had no knowledge of Macintosh vs. Windows, they had no knowledge of USB vs. SCSI (or ADB or parallel ports, for that matter). They wouldn't know a Zip Drive from a CD-ROM Drive. And yet they were thrilled to see so many people huddling around this new space-age computer. However, when they found out there were no more iMacs in stock, it wasn't a big deal to them... they just casually strolled over to the Windows section, picked out some nice-looking Compaq computers and some monitors, and went home. Apple lost 2 potential customers by not having enough supply to meet demand. Customers that Apple desperately needs to increase its market share. Hopefully, this issue will be fixed very soon.
Out of the 21 iMacs on hand, 18 of them went home with current Macintosh users. 2 of them went to brand new users who were buying their very first computer. Only 1 of them went home with a family that already owned 2 PC's. It was today that I realized that Apple really does have its work cut out for it in trying to get both Windows users and first-time buyers to purchase the iMac. If today is any indication, Apple is still selling Macs to the same old people (albeit people who haven't upgraded in several years). Hopefully, their $100 million ad campaign will change all that, so market share can finally increase.
Since most iMac purchasers were existing Macintosh users, the #1 question that I received throughout the day was how anybody can hook up their old hardware to the iMac. And the answer was consistently the same: "You'll need a LocalTalk-to-USB adapter, but it's not available yet. You'll need a SCSI-to-USB adapter, but it's not available yet (and will cause a performance loss). You'll need an adpater, an adpater, an adapter... but nothing is available yet!" Now since most of the users already had old Macs at home, it wasn't crucial right now. But the father of the family that owned 2 PC's almost left the Apple area after hearing the word adapter so many times. He wanted to hook up his existing HP InkJet printer to the new iMac. We told him that first he would have to buy PowerPrint to get the Parallel Port to LocalTalk adapter. But CompUSA did not sell PowerPrint!! Then, he would have to buy a LocalTalk to USB adapter, but that's not available yet! And even if they were both available, no one could confirm that PowerPrint's software would work with the new USB ports anyways. He almost walked over to the Windows section, when he remarkably decided, completely out of left field, that he would purchase a brand new Epson printer with an Epson adapter (thank god they are available now) and take home an iMac. I guess the Bondi (pronounced Bond-Eye) Blue must have gotten to him. Hopefully, adapters will be available very, very soon, and will solve this problem. I almost felt like Apple should have delayed the release of the iMac until the adapters were ready. Or at least thrown in a SCSI port and/or a LocalTalk port.
Surprisingly enough, even long-time Mac users were not aware of 2 things:
#1. People, no matter how well-educated they are, simply don't know that the Mac can run Windows 95 via SoftWindows or Virtual PC. We set up a PowerMac 8600 running Virtual PC just to show disbelieving customers that yes, it really can be done! People were absolutely flabbergasted! At one point during the day, more people were standing around the Virtual PC machine than the iMac. One Windows customer was so disbelieving that he actually PURCHASED a Windows game and INSTALLED IT on Virtual PC just to see if it actually worked! Once again, this is another area where Apple has failed miserably in marketing. This information should be made common knowledge to the masses!! Fortunately, our demonstration of Virtual PC convinced that one father that his current investment in children's games would still run on the iMac. Apple has not mentioned that they will be touting PC-compatibility in their $100 million ad campaign, but I think they should. The catchphrases (that I used) that really stuck in people's minds were, "You get the best of both worlds! Mac and Windows!" and "You get 2 computers for the price of one!"
#2: People also don't know that the 233-MHz G3 processor inside the iMac is 40% faster than a 400-MHz Pentium II. People only compare MHz to MHz, and I had to keep reiterating that that's like comparing apples with oranges. People still didn't get it. Even after showing them charts that were provided by Apple, people still didn't believe it. This is another key area that Apple needs to push, and from early press releases, it looks like Apple is going to do just that.
Also, the iMac crashed twice. Go figure.
One other thing about the iMac: I didn't like the ultra-small mouse. My normal-sized hand completely dwarfed the mouse, and I ended up having to curl my hand in an uncomfortable upside-down "u" shape in order to move the mouse and click the button at the same time. (Editor's Note: As of July 2000, Apple is now shipping a full-sized optical mouse.)
Okay, now on to CompUSA.
1. CompUSA has no modem lines set up anywhere in the retail sections of the store, so it is impossible to show people how fast Internet access would be with the iMac. This seems awfully silly for a computer store, and especially silly for a store that is trying to sell an Internet computer to the masses.
2. CompUSA's Apple Store-Within-A-Store was miserably small. If it wasn't for all the iMac balloons, I wouldn't have been able to find it. I estimate that the Apple Store-Within-A-Store is smaller than my living room. This made my heart sink.
3. Hybrid CD-ROMs are completely lost in the GIGANTIC Windows section. People just don't read boxes, so they simply assume that Windows software is in the Windows section and Mac software is in the Mac section. And there were literally HUNDREDS of games, OUTSIDE of the Apple-Store-Within-A-Store, that would run on Macs! There were even games created by IBM that were hybrid CD-ROMs!! But alas, no one knew this. Many people peered into the pathetically small Apple section, shook their heads, and kept walking. Apple ABSOLUTELY MUST work with CompUSA to increase the size of the Apple Store-Within-A-Store, and include hybrid CD-ROMS **INSIDE** the Apple section. I witnessed a Mac mother putting back games on the shelf after she realized that she was standing in the Windows section. Luckily, I caught her and showed her that all of the CD-ROMs she was carrying would indeed work on the Mac!! She was thrilled, but I can't be a Mac policeman 7-days-a-week at every computer store in the nation. I wish that CompUSA would follow the lead of Virgin Megastore (in Los Angeles), which has all hybrid CD-ROM sections clearly marked as "MAC & WINDOWS HYBRID GAMES". CompUSA just has sections marked by category ("GAMES").
4. CompUSA's employees are not Apple-trained. Even the so-called "Apple-trained" employees were thrilled to see me wearing an Apple t-shirt, because they could finally ask me the ultra-difficult questions that they could never answer themselves, such as "How do you network 2 Macs with each other?" This is a tremendously sad state of affairs for Apple since CompUSA is their only national retail chain, but to be fair, I must also add that a lot of the employees were just as clueless about Windows machines as well. I think CompUSA just hires any high school kid who applies for a job.
On the bright side, every single one of these problems is fixable, but Apple and CompUSA must commit themselves to fixing them.
ScottWorld is the leading Certified FileMaker Developer in Austin & Los Angeles.