Desk-computer market still lures new makers
It's the kind of statement that makes you do a double take. In the desktop computer business, says Ken Price of Compaq Computer Corporation, ''it's never too late for a newcomer.''Skip to next paragraph
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What? Even when a slew of computermakers have already short-circuited? Even when there are still over 225 companies making personal computers? Even when analysts are warning of a bit-blasting shakeout any day now?
It's never too late, Compaq's spokesman affirms, but ''it all depends on having the right approach.''
The right approach will be crucial to this summer's newcomers: American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) and International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT). About the only thing these two formidable companies and their 200-plus competitors can count on is that IBM will still be a leader. But everything else is subject to change. The business market for personal computers today, those in the industry say, is not the market of last year or even six months ago.
If AT&T is to be successful in its new venture, ''it will have to make it in corporate America,'' says Bill Meserve, a computer consultant at Arthur D. Little Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. No other market ''is large enough to have that big an impact on their revenues.'' And corporate America, Mr. Meserve further explains, is in the middle of reevaluating its computer buying process and priorities.
For instance, it wasn't long ago when performance was the thing corporate buyers wanted most out of a desktop computer. ''Speed, memory ... these were primarily at the top of their priority list,'' Meserve says. ''The people buying then were the innovators in companies, the technologists.'' Performance is still on the list, he says, but now it ranks No. 4 in importance, behind No. 3, service and support.
''The No. 1 item turns out to be comfort,'' he asserts. For the buyer, this means picking a vendor that involves the least risk of criticism from management. Specifically, that has meant choosing IBM, which in 1983 had 21 percent of the corporate market in microcomputers and in 1984 will likely have 28 percent, according to Arthur D. Little research.
Because IBM is the leader in personal computers, software writers follow it like fleas on a dog. And the fact that software ranks No. 2 on the corporate priority list makes the IBM comfort factor that much higher.
It's this shift in priorities that has pushed some business-computer makers, like Compaq, into the corporate limelight and others, like Texas Instruments, into the shadows.
At a time when IBM had its personal computers on allocation, Compaq was supplying the market with good-quality computers that were totally compatible with IBM. Timing was perfect; sales are still rocketing.
On the other hand, Texas Instruments found it had to steer away from the Fortune 1000 market. When TI first introduced its professional computer, ''our initial ads had a big company office atmosphere,'' says Todd Clayton, a marketing executive at the company.''We quickly found that our success was not in the big companies but the small companies.''
Why? Because ''it's heavily IBM in the big companies. I think that the IBM-installed base is a very, very powerful element,'' Mr. Clayton says.
It's the ''comfort'' of AT&T's name that gives it the potential for major market presence, analysts say. ''I don't think their timing is so bad,'' comments Aaron Goldberg, a computer analyst at International Data Corporation. ''They brought another big name to the market at a time when the market is in turmoil. AT&T is saying, 'If you don't like buying IBM, if it's too establishment, here's your alternative for a big company.' ''
AT&T's new personal computer is IBM-compatible, but it runs faster than the IBM PC. It has been criticized for not being daring enough in the technological sense - for being just another IBM clone. Some in the industry believe that AT&T's new desktop computer should have been based on UNIX, a much more powerful operating system from AT&T that is used in its higher tier of computers.