Apple's Macintosh Classic brings in the buyers

January 09, 1991|By Peter H. Lewis | Peter H. Lewis,New York Times News Service

The biggest drawback of the new Apple Macintosh Classic is that it is sometimes difficult to find.

The Classic was introduced nearly three months ago, but it is only now starting to appear in stores in significant numbers, and Apple Computer Inc. says that orders could be backlogged until April.

"We were very aggressive in forecasting demand for the Classic, but it exceeded our wildest expectations," an Apple spokesman said.

There is some debate over whether demand for the Classic was so high that it caught Apple off guard or whether Apple jumped the gun and announced the machine before it had sufficient manufacturing capacity.

In any event, Apple has doubled its production rate, and the Classic, a rather homely little box with a small black-and-white screen, has become one of the most popular new computers in years.

Of the three low-cost computers introduced last year by the major companies -- IBM's PS/1, Tandy Corp.'s RL1000 and the Apple Macintosh Classic -- the Classic appears to have been most successful in capturing the imaginations of new users.

"The machine is selling better than any other single model of a personal computer in the history of the computer industry, with the sole exception of the Commodore 64 in its heyday, when it sold for $180," said Stewart Alsop II, editor of P.C. Letter, a newsletter published in Redwood City, Calif. He said he based his statement on sales figures provided to him by Apple.

"Oh, it's hot," concurred JoeAnn Stahel, president of Storeboard/Computer Intelligence, a market research firm in Dallas that tracks sales through computer retail stores. "What we're seeing is a pent-up demand for a Mac that was affordable."

Price does seem to be the key factor, since there is nothing new about the technology of the Classic. It uses a relatively old microprocessor, it has a small monochrome screen, and it has no real expansion capabilities. Those limitations in IBM-style computers would cause critics to foam at the mouth. But the Classic does have one thing the others do not: a strong family link to all the other Macintosh computers and Macintosh software.

In contrast to earlier Macintoshes, which were almost always priced significantly higher than comparably powered computers made by IBM and its many followers, the Mac Classic is certainly affordable.

The basic Classic has a suggested list price of $999. The superior Classic HD is $1,495, about half the price of the Macintosh SE that it replaced.

The Classic HD, which has a hard-disk drive and 2 megabytes of system memory, is by far the more popular machine. "Four out of five Classics go out the door with a hard disk installed," said John Cook, the Apple spokesman.

Although discounting is rare when supplies are limited, the prices of the machines could go as low as $700 and $1,050, respectively, if dealers adopt the traditional Apple discounts.

In contrast, the new IBM PS/1 home computer has a list price of $1,995 and a discount price of about $1,800, and the Tandy RL1000 home computer, which is rarely discounted, costs $1,299.

Mr. Cook said Apple's research indicated that "at least half" of all the Classics are being sold to first-time buyers, the same audience sought by IBM and Tandy for their new home machines.

Neither IBM nor Tandy would disclose sales figures, other than to say that sales met expectations.

The fact that nearly half of the Classic buyers were not first-time buyers suggests that the Classic is being embraced by businesses and schools as well as by home and home-office buyers.

The PS/1 and RL1000, in contrast, were deliberately designed with limitations that make them suitable for home productivity tasks, but not for mainstream business or school use.

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