The Allegheny Region Macintosh User’s Group, (A.R.M.U.G.) which serves Mac users in northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York state, has had an ongoing discussion on Apple’s marketing, products and related topics.
MacCentral’s Jan. 16 article, ”
Apple’s VP of Ed Marketing asks for feedback,” sparked the discussion on how Apple markets its products, or fails to do so, in education. In 1999, a school district in the ARMUG area dumped Macs in its administrative offices in favor of Wintel.
“This discussion resulted from recent developments, most notably when Apple’s new education marketing executive solicited feedback from education customers,” the user group’s Walt Atwood told MacCentral. “It was apparent from early on that there was little awareness of what Apple had to offer; the visibility of Apple’s technological offerings in this region is considered nil by those participating in ARMUG’s discussion. The discussion quickly grew in scope beyond education, to include ways to improve both marketing and marketability of its products across the board. Topics included suggestions for publicity/advertising/marketing, software issues, and hardware issues.”
For your consideration and edification, we present some of the comments and opinions of the ARMUG members. What follows is Atwood’s summary of the discussions, not necessarily the opinion of MacCentral’s crew.
There was agreement that one of the leading examples in this topic is Dell. Dell sells direct, just like the Apple.com Store. They have a fancy Web site, chock full of BTO (build-to-order) options, again like Apple, only better. Dell offers much greater flexibility in BTO configuration options, special hardware/peripherals/accessories deals, and deep discounts on application software.
Unlike Apple, Dell sends out a slick, 32-page glossy “Home Systems” catalogue. Wherever there’s a computer shown, there’s a price, specs, and a URL close-by where you can go to learn more about the model in question. But the “Dell4Me” catalogue doesn’t just display BTO hardware, software, and some third-party peripherals. It serves as a brochure as well. Dell’s catalogue sells Dell. Not just Dell’s products, but its services and reputation as well.
Imagine what Apple could do if they came up with a catalogue that not only displayed the product offerings at the Apple.com Store, but also gave publicity to the benefits of the Mac OS feature set and architecture, AirPort, iMovie, etc. An Apple.com catalogue could be modular, so that different versions could be provided for K-12, S.O.H.O./small business, and enterprise/high-ed/local gov’t/non-profit. This is what Dell is doing: their Web site is segmented in this same fashion.
Why doesn’t Apple use TV/film ads to show how its hardware, in concert with the Mac OS, can do things quicker and/or easier than a PC? If it’s easy for an ordinary out-of-the-box iMac DV to mount an external drive or a camcorder onto the Desktop, then let’s see it.
As mentioned before, Apple suffers from a lack of awareness of its products and services in rural educational markets. ARMUG would point out that some K-12 users are unsure where to turn for service and support involving Apple. The local story of a school system switching its administrative offices from Macs to Wintel occurred, in part, because people did not understand the importance of migrating from one platform to another and how easy it would have been to simply modernize the old Mac system.
One former university librarian contributed: “As far as I can tell, the tech departments of these institutions have the same bias towards Wintel as others; however, there is more open-mindedness, though grudgingly, as many faculty like Macs. Apple used to provide decent prices to the academic market, and their product line was amenable to many disciplines. The best way to market these places is to come in with the cheapest bid.” Another angle Apple has not capitalized on: showing “a better value using total cost of ownership and productivity.”
In other local governments, such as small boroughs and townships, as well as a variety of private businesses, Apple would have a much easier time selling Mac-based systems if they were custom-bundled with software that would meet their needs. In the case of local governments, Apple could find out what software is being used by these local offices, see if it can be ported to the Mac, and offer an alternative. It can’t be much harder than AppleWorks (or Microsoft Office) and QuickBooks (or MYOB). Some township supervisors in this region are concerned about tracking their liquid fuels consumption and making reports to the state.
For both governments and private enterprise alike, it should be noted that Dell sells build-to-order computers bundled with Microsoft Office at a deep discount. Why can’t Apple do this with Microsoft Office 2001 Macintosh Edition and/or FileMaker products? If you buy a new computer from the Apple.com Store, you should be able to get any of these productivity products at a discount price. Apple currently offers discount bundles from Adobe, but has not yet attempted that same approach with bundles from Macromedia. There are also possibilities for bundles that tie in with Apple’s growing video- and music-editing capabilities. Perhaps AppleWorks should be bundled free with every new iMac and iBook, with other models having it available at half-price.
The future of AppleWorks and HyperCard was also discussed. Local Mac users wish to see both of these products continue in their development. The notion of merging HyperCard into AppleWorks’ database and presentation modules received some positive responses. (The objective here would be to enhance both original products as one, without diminishing either.) Since AppleWorks is available in both Mac OS and Windows flavors, merging the two programs would take HyperCard cross-platform. (Apple would, of course, have to port an all-new HyperCard Player to Windows.) This would add value to both the current AppleWorks suite and to every Macintosh it is sold with as well. Apple could offer a freeware “HyperCard Player for Windows” to PC makers with either AppleWorks or QuickTime, or both. This could open new doors for Apple, cross-platform.
The notion of Apple transferring AppleWorks to FileMaker Inc. was also brought up. FileMaker Inc. continues to develop its database software for both Mac OS and Windows. By marketing its wares through its own site, independent of Apple, FileMaker continues to expand its market share. Taking the “Apple” out of AppleWorks and marketing it as either “FileWorks” or “iWorks” through the FileMaker Web site would make it more appealing to Windows users. If there’s an operation that can merge HyperCard into AppleWorks and make the consolidated FileWorks/iWorks available cross platform, it is FileMaker Inc.
Compared to Dell’s BTO setup, the Apple.com Store’s custom-configurations seem inflexible. Dell’s “Dimension L series” desktops offer options from the base model up, while Apple’s hardware options seem much more stratified.
One example: why not allow AirPort connectivity in desktop Macs via a PC Card? Instead of a proprietary AirPort slot, a PC Card slot would allow either AirPort or a variety of other options to be plugged into Apple’s desktop computers. This would add expandability to the iMac and Cube models.
ARMUG members recently compared offerings from Dell’s Web site to those at the Apple.com Store, as well as comparing Apples with Apples. We agree that while Apple’s iMac, iBook and PowerBook G4 lines are competitive with offerings from companies like Dell, the G4 Cube and minitower are another matter. At a base price of US$1,499 (for consumers) with no monitor, the Cube is like a $1,299 iMac DV+ (almost identical feature set, except that the Cube eschews the iMac DV+’s monitor and G3 processor in favor of a G4 processor.) We believe both the iMac DV + and the base Cube should both be available for the same $1,299. Some individuals believe the price of each should be even lower.
And that concludes the ARMUG’s indepth musings. Got thoughts of your own? Post them in the Readers Forum below.