posted by David Adams on Mon 3rd Aug 1998 11:49 UTC, submitted by James D. Vogt
IconApple's controversial decision to omit a floppy drive from its new iMac may have earned it more press than it would have received otherwise, not to mention the goodwill from peripheral manufacturers.

Just about everyone in the Mac community, and a fair amount outside of the Mac community, is aware of the iMac. For a product that doesn't even exist yet, it has generated a huge amount of interest, criticism, adoration... you name it.

And amid all of the praise, and talk about "vision" there were two main things that struck people as kind of odd. One, it didn't have a 56k modem, which didn't make a lot of sense since the "i" stood for internet. And two, it didn't have a floppy.

Now I'm not really sure why Apple originally decided that a 33.6k modem should be the conduit to the internet for their new baby. Maybe it was a cost thing, maybe it was a software thing, who knows. But at Macworld in New York they changed their tune.

"We have listened to our customers" they said. And suddenly the issue was moot. The iMac would ship with a 56k modem on its launch, and still included ethernet for LAN connections or an upgrade to ADSL at home.

That still left the issue of the floppy. Apple's explanation is that the floppy is a dying breed. It's slow and doesn't hold a lot of information. If you have a spreadsheet that you have to work on at home, just email it to yourself.

Well, that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Personally, I think that shipping the iMac without a floppy is kind of a weird idea. Granted, the information it holds is small and slow. But it is still rather functional and cheap. Very cheap.

In fact that got me to wondering, why hadn't someone announced a USB floppy for the iMac with all those other snazzy products at Macworld. Say for around $25-35? If I were buying an iMac at CompUSA, I'd probably pick one up on the way to the register. I imagine that a lot of other people would as well, although maybe a little begrudgingly. "Why should I have to buy a floppy when every other computer out there comes with one?"

Which is a good point. For the low cost to a major manufacturer like Apple, adding a floppy can't really hurt their final margins all that much. Besides, they may sell a few more iMacs as a result and make up for that loss.

Then it hit me.

If the iMac came with a floppy, how likely would it be that I'd be in the market for a $120+ removable storage device.

Probably not as likely.

So perhaps there is more to leaving out the floppy than one would first suspect. Since the iMac lacks a removable storage device, I'm kind of stuck if I want a back up of my brand-new Quicken financial file.

So why would Apple intentionally leave out the floppy?

My guess is that by doing so, Apple creates a vacuum. And by doing so, have inherently created demand for third party storage products. What better way to entice those major vendors to get on the iMac bandwagon, and finally get USB products out for the masses. Those companies are practically guaranteed to sell more units. And margins are a lot better on those than on floppy drives.

The benefits to Apple are even greater. It generates excitement for the iMac. It means that there will be more "stuff" on the shelves and at tradeshows. It means added support from third party vendors, etc. Who incidentally are so sold on this strategy, that some are even making their products translucent so they match the look and feel of the iMac.

And the coup de grace? As an added bonus, Apple gets substantial free press due in part to the "controversial" fact that the iMac lacks a floppy. They have turned what looked like a crazy Steve Jobs oversight into something a lot more valuable than a million dollar "Seinfeld" ad. It got talked about on the Web, on TV and in the Wall Street Journal. How many articles, discussion groups, talkbacks, etc. have you seen related to this fact?

And now you know why I think Apple chose to "fix" only one of the two major objections the public had about the iMac. Because by leaving out the floppy they could further entice 3rd party peripheral manufacturers to create products. Higher margin products. Planned obsolence. The modem was a mistake and was changed... the lack of a floppy was by design.

If any or all of this is true, then I tip my hat. This is genius. Apparently, the marketing and product strategy divisions have picked up on "Think Different" too.

It was a long time coming.

James D. Vogt can be reached at

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