Apple Computer, which made its fame and fortune successfully peddling the "one person, one computer" concept, has leaped bravely into the "office of the future" with what it calls "The Macintosh Office."
The company effectively is putting all its chips (no pun intended) on its Macintosh personal computer as the "intelligent work station" in the office, and is gambling that a lot of small, medium and large businesses will be willing to bet on the Mac, too.
This means that Apple must fundamentally redefine itself as a company. Instead of a hip, young bunch of sharp people selling computers to "people like us" (in the words of one top-level Apple executive), it is becoming a company selling personal computer systems to businesses. The difference is both significant and profound.
For one, businesses have needs and demands -- such as profit and market concerns -- that most individuals simply don't have.
Computer stores -- Apple's main channel of distribution -- are going to view their job of selling Apples in a new way. Instead of trying to sell a Mac and an Imagewriter to an individual, they will be trying to package multiple Macs -- along with local area networks and printers -- for entire businesses. And why not? These stores want to make money. They'll earn more selling six Macs at a crack than selling one Mac at a time.
Now that Apple has a cluster of technologies to surround and support the Mac, the stores are going to push these new peripheral and networking technologies to raise profits. In time, Apple's stores are going to deemphasize selling to individual computer owners in favor of selling to volume customers. It will become less profitable for computer stores to hold the hands of individual customers when they could instead cultivate corporate clients.
There's another problem. Who is going to support all these Apple business systems when push comes to shove? Many computer stores do a superb job of planning and installing personal computer systems -- most notably, IBM PC systems. Of course, it's a lot easier for a company to choose an IBM PC system because who doesn't believe that it will be IBM to the rescue if the store can't handle the problem itself?
That poses a problem for Apple. Is it in a position to be able to support tens of thousands of business customers or will it be forced to rely solely on its stores to provide that support? A business investing tens of thousands of dollars in a computer system wants a sense of security. Will Apple have the support structure to be able to provide it?
Not incidentally, don't forget that Apple depends on third-party software houses to write the software for all these new systems. Businesses aren't going to make that $50,000 investment in a computer network that doesn't have the kind of software support they want.
These questions should not obscure the fact that Apple has introduced some technically superb products for the Mac Office. The $6,995 programmable LaserWriter -- a high-quality laser printer -- is nothing short of awesome. Any one who regularly publishes office reports that incorporate graphics -- or publishes a newsletter -- should look this technology over very, very seriously. Indeed, if you have a group of Mac-using friends, consider pooling your resources to buy one for the group. I'll wager that we may see LaserWriters in speedy print shops around the country by the end of this year.
While the quality isn't quite at the typesetting level, it is good enough to print out different fonts and graphics with a crispness that unquestionably delivers the most pica for the buck.
A last comment on Apple: The company has prided itself on what it calls "event marketing" -- that is, big to-dos like the "1984" ad of last year featuring a cute blonde in shorts running through a crowd of zombies, and this Super Bowl's "executives as lemmings" ad, with guys in three-piece suits whistling "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go" as they tumble over a cliff.
Well, this may create attention, but it sure as heck doesn't create sales. Apple is going to have to snap out of its "let's be clever" mode and begin to sell itself on the benefits of its machines. Now that it's selling systems and not just computers, it is going to have to take a sales approach that is a trifle more mature. Apple is going to have to portray itself as a responsible cost-effective and safe alternative to IBM. I don't think you do that by airing advertisements that win more praise for style than substance.