Families turn to them more for business than pleasure
Mountain View, Calif.
Brad Martin leans over the keyboard of the Apple II computer in his study. After a flourish at the keyboard, a voice that only Robbie the Robot could love issues from a small box sitting nearby. The electronic voice rattles off the greeting that Mr. Martin's friends hear when they call. The brown-haired Texan proudly demonstrates the telephone answering system he has assembled. ``It would have been cheaper and easier to have bought an answering machine, but this was more of a challenge,'' he explains with a touch of sheepishness.Skip to next paragraph
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As a home computer user, Mr. Martin is a real-life representative of a market that has lured, confused, disappointed, and humbled a number of high-flying computer manufacturers. Two that recently stumbled are the toymaker Coleco Corporation, which stopped producing its Adam home computer, and the veteran computermaker International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which recently discontinued its PCjr. Both manufacturers faltered on false assumptions about the basic nature of the market.
An engineer who quit a lucrative job with the Bechtel Company to attend Stanford University School of Business, Mr. Martin estimates that he spends between 10 and 15 hours a week at his keyboard. Surveys indicate that the national average is 12 hours. Further, he estimates that about half of his computer time is devoted to schoolwork and half to personal uses. Here, too, he is typical. He also expresses considerable satisfaction with his Apple II. A survey last fall by the market research firm Dataquest found, to its surprise, that more than 90 percent of home computer users expressed satisfaction with their equipment.
Mr. Martin's serious applications include using an electronic spreadsheet (software that combines the characteristics of a business ledger, calculator, and pencil) to work out business problems and the computer's word processor to compose class papers. The major pleasure the computer provides him is a chance to tinker. The telephone answering system is an example.
His other personal uses include keeping a file of the names and addresses of several hundred friends and acquaintances. This allows him to find information easily and check suspicious numbers on his monthly phone bill. Mr. Martin tried a personal finance software package but found it ``essentially worthless.'' But he does maintain and periodically update a personal cash-flow analysis and a record of several dozen credit cards he has collected on the Apple.
The way this young professional puts his computer to use, particularly the heavy emphasis on serious or business applications, is characteristic of most home computer users. ``People seem to justify the purchase of computers on a business rather than a personal basis,'' reports William L. Coggshall, president of Software Access International, a market-research firm. In fact, he calls the so-called ``home computer market'' a phantom. Apple Computer's chief executive officer, John Sculley, is even more emphatic. ``There is no home market,'' he says categorically.
It is more accurate, says Dr. Coggshall, to think of it as an office-in-the-home market. The surveys he has conducted suggest that purely personal uses average fewer than 6.6 hours a week compared with a 12.2-hour weekly total. The bulk of nonpersonal use comes from business-in-the-home activities and job-related homework.
Mary Lou Maxson of Boulder, Colo., is an example of someone who runs a small business from her home with the aid of a small computer. An expert on Japanese crafts, she organizes folk art tours to Japan, imports and sells Japanese works of art, and is writing a book about the kimono. For two years she has used a Radio Shack Model 2 to organize her various efforts. Mrs. Maxson considers her computer ``just wonderful'' because it has greatly increased her productivity. She spends at least 20 hours a week at the keyboard.
The short history of personal computers suggests that serious uses of this sort are the predominant reason people acquire a computer. But only within the last year or so has the industry come to recognize this fact.