Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 128 / APRIL 1991 / PAGE 26

Macs for the masses: three new Macs priced to sell. (Apple Macintosh computers)
by David English

Computers for the rest of us? That's what Apple hopes it has with its three new Macs: the Classic, the LC, and the IIsi. With earnings down for the third quarter of 1990, Apple had been criticized for concentrating on its high-end models at the expense of its entry-level machines.

The new Macs are designed to shore up Apple's low end with a competitively priced black-and-white Mac, and entry-level color Mac that sells for less than half the price of any previous color Mar, and a new color Mac II that's $1,600 less than the model it replaces. With increased competition from Windows 3.0 and a barrage of cheap MS-DOS computers, Apple had to act and act decisively.

Up Close and Personal

The long-awaited Macintosh Classic can best be described as a Mac SE without the expansion slot - but at half the price. It replaces both the Plus and the SE in the product line. Like the SE, the Classic includes a 1.4MB SuperDrive that can read and write Mac, MS-DOS, OS/2, and Apple II ProDOS disks. The SuperDrive is now standard across the entire Macintosh line.

Apple had planned to sell the floppy disk version of the Classic for about $1,500 but decided just weeks before the announcement to offer it at a more competitive $999. That price matches the entry-level PS/1 from IBM, which is also black-and-white and has a single floppy drive. A 40MB hard disk version of the Classic increases the price to $1,499. The floppy disk version has 1MB of RAM, while the hard disk version has 2MB. Both can be expanded to 4MB.

Why drop the expansion slot? Apple argues that 90 percent of SE owners never used it, and eliminating the slot means the Classic can get by with a smaller logic board and a more modest power supply. Like the SE, the Classic has six ports along its back, including a SCSI (pronounced scuzzy) port that can connect up to seven SCSI devices and an ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) port that can connect up to three input devices (a mouse and keyboard are included).

No Anchovies

With the Macintosh LC, Apple has reduced the price of a complete color Mac System by a whopping $4,500. Though not officially a Mac II, the LC uses the same 16-MHz 68020 processor as the original Mac II. It's about the size of a small pizza box, weighs just 8.8 pounds, is expandable to 10MB of RAM, and has seven ports and 8-bit color built in (for 256 colors from a possible 16.7 million). Spend an additional $199 for a video-memory upgrade, and you can move up to the new 16-bit color (for 32,000 colors from 16.7 million). And like the other color Macs, the LC will be able to accept a 24-bit color card (for all 16.7 million colors).

One of the most interesting features of the LC is its ability to record sound. Both the LC and IIsi include a new sound-input port and a small microphone. The new System 6.0.7 adds the ability to record, play, and save sounds at any time, and a new HyperCard stack makes it easy to edit your sounds. Apple is encouraging software companies to integrate sound input into their existing applications.

A version of the LC with 2MB of RAM and a 40MB had drive but no monitor has a suggested list price of $2,499. The street price of this model with a monitor is expected to be about $2,000. A second version, with one or two floppy drives but without a had drive or monitor, will reportedly be available only to primary and secondary schools. Apple also plans to offer an inexpensive Apple IIe card for the LC's single 020 Direct Slot.

Silly Initials

Like the LC, Macintosh IIsi has built-in sound input and 8-bit color. It also has eight built-in ports, uses a speedy 20-MHz 68030 processor (making it about six times faster than a Mac Plus), and can currently be expanded to 17M of RAM.

The IIsi's single can take either a Mac II NuBus cad or an SE/30 Direct Slot card - though both require an optional adapter cad. Apple's adapter cards include a math coprocessor, but similar cards from PSI are available without the math chip.

The IIsi is available in two configurations: one with 2MB or RAM and a 40MB hard drive for $3,769, and the other with 5MB of RAM and an 80MB hard drive for $4,569. Neither price includes a monitor or keyboard, but expect both systems to be heavily discounted.

The Little Engine That Could

As pat of Apple's aggressive move to fight back, the company is publishing the results of a study that shows the new Macs performing faster and costing less than comparable MS-DOS machines. The speed tests were performed by Ingram Laboratories using Windows 3.0 programs that run on both platforms.

The price comparisons included computers from IBM, Compaq, and Tandy - with the 8-MHz Classic compared to 10- and 12-MHz 80286 and 8086 machines, the 16-MHz LC compared to 16-MHz 80386SX and 10-MHz IIsi compared to 20- and 25-MHz 80386 and 25-MHz 80486 machines. While the study makes a strong case for Apple against the big three, it doesn't mention that similar MS-DOS computers are available from many smaller vendors for much less.

Ultimately, sales will determine whether the new Macs will help Apple build on its 10-percent market share. Apple's market share, as a company, is about the same as IBM's, but only Apple produces Macs, while literally hundred of companies put together IBM-compatible PCs. So far, Apple has been able to make it purely on innovation, but the enormous popularity of Windows 3.0 has cut into its lead. By making its Macs more price competitive - at least with machines from the other big-name computer manufacturers - Apple is adjusting to the new realities of the marketplace.

With software, the Mac is in a much stronger position. In terms of dollars, the Macintosh accounts for about 20 percent of all software sales. Because of Apple's previous push into the business community with its high-end Macs, there's already a good mix of high- and low-priced productivity software. But there are many more entertainment titles for the PC and many more educational titles for the Apple IIe. With the Classic priced aggressively for the home and the LC heavily discounted to the schools, will we soon see a deluge of games and educational programs for the Mac?

Shelf Life

If the experience at Electronic Arts (EA) and Sierra On-Line is typical, Mac owners will soon see a variety of games from some unfamiliar places. In the past, both companies had pretty much ignored the Mac. Now, according to Bing Gordon, EA's senior vice president of marketing and planning, the new machines have helped convince the company to develop both PGA Tour Gold and Starflight 2 for the Mac. Likewise, Sierra has announced it will release 14 games for the Mac.

Educational software developers have eagerly awaited both the Classic and the LC. Because Apple provided Scholastic Software with the new machines 12 months before they were officially announced, Scholastic should have 16 Mac products available by the time you read this. Peter Kelman, Scholastic's publisher, predicts that the Mac will become "the school machine of the nineties." He says that schools are scrambling to change their Apple IIgs orders to orders for the Macintosh LC.

That same optimism is voiced by many industry analysts. Stewart Alsop, publisher of P.C. Letter, says, "Apple will do very well with its new product line." Jeffrey Tarter, publisher of Soft*Letter, goes even further. He says, "Apple is going to sell every one it can make, and it's going to be able to make lots of them."

While some Wall Street analyst have expressed concern about Apple's having to lower its prices, Tarter suggests that Apple has a lot to gain. "It's often said that you can find lots of people who have switched from DOS machines to Macs, but it's real hard to find someone who has switched from a Mac to a DOS machine. If Apple can start more people early on the cycle, they're more likely to move them up to the more expensive machines."

Money Talks

Within days after the Apple announcement, dealers were already discounting the Classic. Prices averaged about $900 for the $999 floppy disk model and about $1,250 for the $1,499 40MB had disk model. New York City's Computer Era led the way by slashing the price of the $999 model to $749.

By the second week, the California-based Connecting Point chain franchise had sold over 10,000 Classics and had 18,000 on back order. While Apple has back orders for all three new machines, nearly half of them are for the Classic.