iMac-mania in Taiwan

(Note: article from 1999, written for MacWEEK/ZDnet) Everything is translucent, and everything connects to a Universal Serial Bus port — that’s the first impression anyone would get walking into Computex Taipei ’99 this week.

According to show organizers, Computex Taipei is one of the world’s three largest computer trade shows — next to only Las Vegas’ Comdex and CeBIT in Hanover, Germany. For the computer industry in Taiwan, this is the showcase for demonstrating how they can feed the world with low-cost and creative peripherals and accessories.

For companies from the rest of the world, Computex Taipei is the place to decide what sort of gear they’ll need to compete. Judging from the offerings at this year’s show, users are destined to wield something colorful and somewhat, er, transparent.

Aside from the hoopla surrounding the latest Pentium III, super-slim PC notebooks, you won’t see too much new stuff making its debut at Computex Taipei. Since this is an export-oriented trade show in an export-oriented country, everything is driven by volume and market needs, not by strictly technical innovations.

As a result, goods such as scanners, USB hubs, mice and disk arrays are abundant, but you won’t see new VR software or liquid hydrogen-cooled computers — not even computers as innovative as the blue Power Mac G3s. On the other hand, you will spot a plethora of iMacs playing supporting roles throughout the show.

Many of them aren’t actually running an application; instead, the point is to demonstrate how the “iSomething” on sale at the booth matches the consumer system’s color and style.

This iMac-mania is a good sign for Mac users worldwide. Even volume-driven Taiwanese merchants are eyeing the iMac as a viable business opportunity and are willing to make something for iMac users (as long as that USB hub also has a “Windows 98-compatible” sticker on the bottom). We will be seeing these gadgets in Mac dealers everywhere quite soon after the show.

But for potential iMac users — including non iMac-savvy foreign buyers — a number of the third-party wares on display here may take some luster off of Apple’s carefully orchestrated marketing efforts. Many of the iMac-style peripherals don’t bear Apple’s vaunted craftsmanship and used the “i” prefix to imply their relationship with the iMac. The typical “I don’t know what this baby can do; I just make iSomething for it” response from booth reps may cause some attendees to wonder if the iMac’s beauty is just skin-deep.

True, Apple can’t patent the “i” prefix or the iMac’s colorful design, but the overuse of Apple’s groundbreaking design by other manufacturers could cast a shadow on the iMac as well as the new Power Mac G3 line. It could even give some users the impression that the iMac is just another colorful radio flyer outfitted with lots of toys.

iMac is indeed a phenomenon, even in the PC-dominant Chinese market. But it’s reasonable to keep a close eye on whether the device’s public image is straying from where Apple wants it to be.

We’d like to see Apple take steps in Asia to exploit the iMac phenomenon, which has after all been built up by peripheral makers. Hopefully, the company can further propel awareness of the system’s power here, but that will take more than ambiguous, one-size-fits-all posters and slogans.

Remember, Taiwan is already a toy kingdom.

Originally published on Macweek, June 4, 1999

By Fred Jame, editor in chief, Macworld Magazine/Chinese Edition