Just a generic geek, with a tendency for taking things apart

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Test Drive a Mac Today!
Apple used to have a really sweet program where you could test drive a Mac for a week or so. They really need to reinstate that program.

Here's why.

Anyone can explain why one product is better than another - salesmen have been doing that for centuries, but its another thing when your product can stand up and present itself right out of the box - essentially selling itself. Apples and Macs, especially in their current reincarnation, are some of the few products that seem to be able to sell themselves

Apple doesn't simply place a computer into a box and ship it, Apple gives you a full package from the hardware and cables down though the OS and even down to the software packages from brain dead consumer to pro level audio and video production.

However while this is good for a generic consumer PC, Apple - or Apple retailers should come up with a "switch package" that is a little beyond what Apple generally hands out.

Here's what I'd stuff into a switch package:

  • Basics
  • A Fully stocked Mac Mini with Super Drive, Airport Express, and Bluetooth
  • Two Button Mouse
  • A keyboard
  • PS/2 USB Adapter
  • A blank CD, a blank DVD, maybe a small USB thumb drive
  • All the software ever bundled on any Mac - both the consumer pack and the pro package
  • Source media - including a variety of audio and video files
  • a USB 2.0/Firewire/Media reader
  • All the 3rd party drivers you can possibly find
  • An Auto deleter program
  • Optional Items
  • iSight
  • Speakers
  • Printers
  • LCD Display
  • Airport Express
  • iPod?

Some items are more obvious than others. The Mac should be obvious, but its important that it has all the interfaces as possible. It can be easy for people to have a device and not be sure if they can connect it - cell phones for example - as a growing number of them have bluetooth . Wifi is another essential since it can be easier than connecting a cat5 cable to the Mac. The super drive allows the Mac to show off its one stop video processing ability (as well as permitting the user to get any data off the system before it is deleted)

Regardless of what the user might have available you need to have a mouse, and a 2 button mouse at that. For some reason people can't swallow the single button mouse thing and to put it bluntly there's no reason in hell that you shouldn't have a scroll wheel - period. A keyboard is something you just shouldn't assume (besides most Macs ship with them) Less obvious is the PS/2 adapter and the KVM. Chances are that the Switch package is going to a home with an existing PC, and chances are they won't want to disconnect the PC to test drive the Mac - so we want to make it possible for them to use the PC side by side with the Mac and the PS/2 and KVM switch are going to help enable that.

Include the DVD and CD as blank media. Anything they create you'll want them to pull off, and most people don't have blank DVDs floating around (and many don't keep blank CDs) The USB thumb drive is less obvious, but as PCs and Macs can easily handle USB drives this allows you to make it easy for the user to move files, it also presents an advertising mechinism - USB drives are cheap and easily branded. If you charge a small fee to test drive it can be practical to add in a few dollars worth of media to help make it easier to swallow.

The software is also a little less obvious, but between the consumer and professional packages you cover nearly everything. Games, reference materials, personal organizational tools, audio editing, professional software tools, an office like package, basically anything and everything a computer user really needs - and a collection of software that displays excellence in the developer communities. I would een go as far as saying that you should not preinstall pay for items - such as the pro level creation demos (Final Cut Pro) or Microsoft programs (Office X) however I would make a variety of 30 day demo deals available on an additional CD or DVD.

Of corse to use that software you'll want to make sure they have files to work with - so make sure you load it up with MP3s, AACs (ie the free iTMS songs), movs, jpgs, MP4s, AVIs (especially divx and xvid) Even WMV. Throw every format clip you possibly can because you need to show the user that you can handle everything their PC can. I know that Apple and Jobs dislike piracy as much as the next Hollywood mogul, you many people have DVDs and divx files - you better make sure you can handle them. Yes this stands to make a problem later, but if the user knows what they want to use, you have a better idea of how to help them configure their system when they (hopefully) buy it from a small retailer (ie you)

Similar to being able to handle all the software formats, you also want to make it easy to handle all the peripherals they may have. This means having the connections available for USB, Firewire, and all the storage medias you may have. 8 in 1 readers are dirt cheap, so if you can buy over one person by being able to read their camera's media card its worth it. This goes in with 3rd party drivers as well since you don't know what they may try and plug in. Chances are that they may have a scanner, printer or camera they want to use - so if you can handle it out of the box you're golden. us mac users know that drivers are rarely an issue, and chances are that the OS already knows the device - but again its better to be safe than sorry. I wouldn't even put a strong emphasis here as it is rarely an issue tho' having HP/Canon/Epson printer drivers isn't going to hurt you.

Then there's the auto wipe. To make this work I think you're going to need to be cloning this disk. This is for two main reasons first you're going to want to make sure you're not moving personal files between users. Piracy is bad. You can probably set this up as a Cron job. The other main reason is that it is going to force the user to return the system - thiws pack is going to cost $1000+ you want to keep your investment. Cloning the disk also lets you get away with another trick - reusing those 30 day deals. Which for test drivers is going to somewhat important.

The optional items aren't as important but things like the iSight, iPod, printers, scanners (which don't need to be high end gear) lets the user see that Macs can do everything the PCs can, and in many cases with a lot less hassle. Plus - you can charge a rental fee.

I needed to get some of these ideas out as I'm noticing a lot of people that would be more than fine with a Mac, but can't get past the switching part of Mac vs Windows. Simply clicking around in a store isn't enough - I think people see and think - "oooh pretty - but how is this better than windows?" Even us geeks have that experience. The salesmen is usually annoying, only partially knowledgeable, and spends more time locking systems up then trying to help people blow them up :) I'm a geek and I didn't have a really great idea about living with an iBook when I got mine - yes I had used one, but I learned more about iBooks in the first few minutes of having it in my home than I did with a hour of playing with Macs in a compUSA and Apple Stores. Furthermore in a CompUSA they're only giving you best guesses about what peripherals may or may not work with the Mac - thats something you can easily try at home and discover in a few minutes at a low cost.

Of corse there's some inherent risk that the loaners run, but I think that because this is a local deal, it could help keep local resellers afloat.

Ramblings over (and yes I know this is on damned long post)

A few responses to critics: 4:20 PM Jun 21

Now that I've been linked to on Macslash I've seen some criticisms so here are some responses:

First, Apple can open all the retail stores it wants, but it can't reach into all the potential markets unless it want's to suffer the same fate as Gateway Stores. The closest Apple store to me is at least 3 hours, the nearest CompUSA is 2, and there might be a small Apple dealer at an hour and a half and they're more of a repair shop. Then as some people have hit on, despite Apple's training some of the staffers aren't the most computer savvy. What Mac geek hasn't stepped in (or at least watched) while a Mac salesmen or a "genius" choked on a question?

While I don't really remember the office Apple Test drive I am familiar with it. The main difference I see is that back then you had far more Apple dealers (from the IIe days) and much fewer Macs (since they had just launched) Between the near fall of Apple in the mid 90s and Apple's own retail push now you have a few handfuls of Apple dealers who have managed to survive, and those stores are always looking for something they can offer that Apple can't. A test drive kit like the one I described probably falls into that category. I just can't see Apple, or any other major computer company for that matter, trying this.

The other shortcoming of Apple's campaign was that you only had it overnight. Giving it to a user, who is hopefully going to put it in use side by side with their older PC, and letting them play with it for a week is going to do a lot towards acclimating them to the Mac. OS upgrades aside you can use the Mac, or any other OS for that matter, for months and still pick up new tricks. While shortcut command have (and probably always will) be a problem when moving between Macs and PCs, however, I'd be willing to say that most users don't use short cuts.

Test driving works. I've handed out a few old Macs to friends and nearly all of them switched over at some point - and all of those that have said that test driving was a major reason for their switching.

The problem of course is getting Mac dealers to try it.

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