Macintosh users, take heart: Apple is on the way back

Personal Computers

August 19, 1996|By Peter Lewis

AFTER SIX MONTHS on the job, Heidi Roizen, a former software developer who is now Apple Computer Inc.'s head of developer relations, says she has identified Apple's biggest problem.

"It's the perception of future risk, not the reality of what's happening now," Roizen said. "People are worried about Apple. They are worried that the application they need either isn't available or won't be available. They wonder, 'How much can I depend on Apple to be there in the future when I need them?' "

The reality is that the Macintosh is coming back. It never really went away, of course, but visitors to the annual summer Macworld conference in Boston recently were breathing a bit easier after viewing a broad array of new hardware and software products for the beleaguered personal computer system.

Apple has plenty of problems to work out before its customers can spend their dollars without wondering if they are investing in a dead-end technology.

But there are several reasons to be confident about the Mac's survival. First, this Macworld revealed, for the first time, a proliferation of so-called clone machines, computers based on the Macintosh operating system software but made by other companies, including Power Computing, Umax and Daystar.

Even more encouraging, Motorola Inc., IBM and Apple were hinting that they would soon have computers on the market that will allow users to install the operating system of their choice. These "common hardware reference platform" machines could be available early next year.

One of the most vexing problems, Roizen noted, is that customers may have a difficult time finding the new Macintosh products in the marketplace. Apple Computer's well-publicized financial and organizational problems in the past year have scared off many buyers and some software developers, and have also scared off some retailers.

The retailers see Apple's market share dwindling -- to about 7 percent of all personal computers sold now, down from more than 10 percent a year ago -- and reduce the space given to Macintosh products accordingly.

Roizen of Apple pointed out that there is far more Macintosh software in stores than meets the eye. More software is being delivered on CD-ROM, she noted, and more CD-ROM packages contain hybrid disks that include the code for Macintosh computers as well as Windows machines.

The trouble is that retailers stock these hybrid CDs in the Windows sections. When the programs are sold, they are counted as Windows sales, even though they may have been purchased by Macintosh users. The result is what Roizen called a "huge under-reporting" of Macintosh software sales.

Apple has a difficult task ahead in persuading thousands of retailers to change the way they stock, display and report sales for the hybrid CD-ROM titles. The company plans to spend millions of dollars in the coming year to provide retailers with Macintosh banners and displays, in the hope that those piles of boxes on the floor will get better treatment.

But Apple's best prospect in the long term is to encourage its Macintosh users to consider shopping electronically. At the Macworld convention, officials from the Netscape Communications Corp. gave enthusiastic praise to the Macintosh, which is not surprising, since Netscape is openly unfond of Microsoft. Netscape's point, however, was that its studies have shown Mac users to be twice as likely as Windows users to use the Internet. And there lies a potential advantage for Apple.

Several new electronic software outlets have opened recently, allowing Mac users to shop for specific Mac products that can then be delivered the traditional way, through the mail, or the cyber way, through a modem and phone line.

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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