The masters of the Cupertino universe

With the advent of System 8, Apple Computer has embarked on a strange new marketing strategy, Sutherland Lyall considers the effects of the latest tactics

Call me a cynic, but one of the advantages of being the continuing victims of cultural colonialism is that although the new Mac operating system, System 8, will be shipping in the US round about now, we don’t get it until September. And that may mean that by then the glitches inherent in any version n-point-zero of an application may have been discovered and eliminated. Why the delay? You ask the Apple information machine. One answer you won’t get is that Cupertino always needs to wait 90 days for its price to rise so that it can charge pound for dollar. So, is there a less ridiculous reason? We, along with the rest of the free world, have to undergo a three-month “localisation period” while text is translated into non-American English, French and German. An indication of how far the two versions of English have diverged is that these three all take the same time to translate. It takes even longer to do Dutch, Japanese, Swahili and that kind of language. The least they could do would be to offer vouchers for free copies of System 8 to people who buy Mac machines from now on – and that’s exactly what they have done. Naturally, everybody is going ape over the possibility of getting their hands on early copies – or they are at least mildly interested. Remember, this isn’t Rhapsody, it’s a stopgap to keep your interest at fever pitch.

An ultimately embarrassing marketing wheeze has emerged from Cupertino in the form of the AppleMasters Program. AppleMasters, according to former Apple CEO Gil Amelio, “are an international group of visionaries from various fields: artists, designers, writers, architects, inventors, scientists, educators, business leaders, athletes, and other world-changers. I have initiated the AppleMasters Program to recognise extraordinary people.” So far, so good. But wait. Amelio continued in the next breath: “And to show you how they use Apple products and technology in their varying endeavours.” There’s also a website: www. applemasters.apple.com, which “will provide a window into the AppleMasters’ world, so you can discover through their experiences how Apple products and technology can inspire your own efforts”. All this turned into a sad case of “do what I say”, when Amelio jumped ship a few weeks later.

Remarkably, that amiable and talented Dick Powell and Richard Seymour have signed up – along with Douglas Hitchhiker Adams – as the British AppleMasters, er, surely MarketingMasters. Others include the actor Richard Dreyfuss, Michael Jurassic Crichton and Mohammad Ali. More Brits will presumably be added as the international Masters list develops. And we’ll be fearlessly pointing the finger when they do. On the selection front it’s interesting that Kanwell Sharma, who is fronting the scheme in the UK for Apple, is a Brit and a former product designer. No, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have instinctively gone for S&P had I been in Apple’s shoes. A nice little footnote is the use of the word “yet” in the caption about Seymour and Powell: “This duo has received numerous awards for their cutting-edge, yet useful, product designs.”

Equally remarkably, Apple Marketing Masters get no recompense for making a public confession to anybody who will listen about the emotional, social and professional dependence they have on their pet Macs. They don’t even get their air fares paid to AppleMaster confabulations. OK, they get a laptop or notepad and they can give their favourite charities a couple of desktops. But that’s not exactly stuff you report to the House Privileges Committee is it? What we have here is a brilliant adaptation by Apple of the psychology of closed cult members who, like early Christians cheerfully lining up outside the Coliseum feeding pens, do whatever is necessary to prove their faith.

We were going to review MicroSolutions’ Backpack PD/CD. It’s a nifty, external, optical disk writer/reader of 600MB or so disks and costs 350 plus around 30 per disk. The tested version was designed to plug into the parallel port of a PC. Perfect for storing big image files – and, because the software lets you, for backing up ditto. We thought we had an ace, easily portable machine on our hands. Until, that is, the oddly old-fashioned on-off switch decided to join its maker. Great machine, crap on-off switch. But hold on there. Great machine, but surely at a different price. I don’t know if you’ve seen the price of CDR writers – 300 including VAT and software – and blank disks at less than 3. Rewritable versions of the same cost only 100 more. The critical thing in data transfer is that the recipient has the right kit to read it. It used to be that most designers and certainly bureaus had Syquest drives in or near their machines. Today the same is possibly true about Zip drives. What is unarguable is that the one standard drive everybody has today is a CD-ROM player. Suddenly the nice Backpack, its switch and its disk look a tad on the pricey side.

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