Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 03/84 item 01 - scanned


Wasn't it St Paul who saw the light on the road to Damascus? Well, I'm no saint but a similar thing happened to me on a recent visit to America where I came face to face with Apple's Macintosh and Lisa machines. It started with a grudging appreciation of Felix Dennis' Lisa. (Felix is the Chairman of the company which publishes MicroScope). I only meant to take a quick look at the Lisa, to confirm my prejudices but I stayed to play. It seemed a bit on the slow side but nowhere near as awful as I had expected. In fact, it was quite fun to use.

After I came out of Felix's office, I picked up a copy of Time magazine and guess what was in the middle: a 20-page Macintosh brochure. Twenty pages! In Time magazine? How many companies would dare to go for that sort of splash? It was a very nice brochure too, full of pictures of Mac in action, inside Mac, outside Mac, Mac being carried around. . . All in all it was a splendid bit of publicity aimed at the 220 million or so Americans who don't already use a computer.

Now that's an interesting approach, I thought. After all, none of these computer illiterates will realise that two disk drives make more sense than the one on offer with the Mac. They won't realise that if you want to print all those flashy typefaces, you will slow down your printer horrendously. And why should they care? The Mac and its printer will let them do things faster than they could before and, until they start comparing their Mac with other machines, they will be blissfully ignorant of what might have been. And, my goodness, what sort of designer came up with such an ugly machine? Such were my feelings as I made my way south to Softcon in New Orleans.

I knew that Mac would sell well, but clearly to the ignorant rather than to the computer literati. Trying to find my way around the enormous exhibition hall, I stumbled into a room containing 64 Macintoshes, all set out on desks in orderly rows, waiting for people to use them. It was at this instant that I started to become infatuated. Did you ever see the film ET? If you did then a similar emotion might have overtaken you with regard to that ugly little alien. The Macintosh looks ugly on paper, but when you see it in the flesh, especially in a room full of them, it no longer looks peculiar. It just looks sweet. Still, I must keep reminding myself that it has only got one diskdrive (you can pay extra for another) and you do need to clear lots of space on your desk for the mouse.

By now I was bending Bill's ear about how Macintosh was going to sell regardless of the practicalities. Bill, incidentally, is my long-suffering partner. In fact, I was beginning to lose sight of the practicalities myself. Bill kept grilling me about why it would sell and what it had got to offer that other machines hadn't - hard-nosed managing directorial sorts of questions which I couldn't sensibly answer. Instead of trying to explain to Bill what I was ranting on about, I suggested he attend a hands-on session in the room with 64 Macs. The presentation was absolutely superb. The guy doing it was slick both in words and in his use of the Macintosh. He had that machine performing all sorts of wonderful tricks and, in five minutes or so, the audience was spellbound. He changed character fonts, pulled drawings out of files, reproduced them all over the screen, inverted them, made kaleidoscopic images, messed around with shading, lassoed things and moved them. . . The tricks were endless. Suddenly the presentation stopped and we were allowed to use the Macs which sat in front of us. We fiddled and fumbled and, in there remaining 20 minutes or so, managed to repeat about one percent of what we had been shown. Talk about hungry for more. If someone had been at the door selling Macintoshes, most of us would have bought.

As we stepped out of the room Bill said, "You're right". I asked him why and he said "Dunno". We spent the rest of the show muttering to each other about how the Mac would sell and sell. We analysed, we argued, we spent a disproportionate amount of time reflecting on this. In the end it came down to an admission that the mouse is a very easy device to use and particularly appropriate for graphic design work. Which is why Apple, the sneaky devils, concentrated on that aspect of Mac's use. The fact that it appeals to the child in us makes it a very powerful selling aid. Never mind that you really want to do spreadsheeting and word processing on the machine. What you really want to do is mess around, doodle and produce works of art which previously were quite beyond you. You can justify the purchase because spreadsheets and word processors are available too.

The marketing of the Macintosh is going to cost Apple $25 million in the first four months alone. The company is treating the Mac and the Lisas as an integrated range of machines in order to attract the corporate clients. Mac magazines are going to appear just like IBM PC magazines did. In fact the pilot issue of MacWorld is already available.

The big marketing spend, the ET appeal and the unique facilities offered by the Mac will restore Apple to prominence in this industry. And it's still got only one disk drive.