Apple's uncertain direction alarms some, but not loyal Mac customers

January 25, 1996
Web posted at: 3:55 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (AP) -- Apple Computer Inc.'s uncertain future doesn't worry Pat rick Dillon, business owner and four-time Macintosh buyer.

Looking for two new ones at a CompUSA store in Manhattan Wednesday, Dillo n said he will keep buying them regardless of whether or not Apple is sol d.

"It's easier to use than the IBM-compatibles," said D illon, who runs a beverage distributing firm in Riverside, Conn. "It doesn't mat ter who buys it if they keep the integrity of the product. That's all I care about." Around the country, retailers say demand hasn't slowe d for Apple's products this past week, one of the stormiest in recent memory for the second-largest computer maker. Its executives reported the company's first quarterly loss since 1993, forecast another for January to March, be gan laying off 1,300 workers and placated angry shareholders at its annual me eting. On top of all that, they may be negotiating a buyout by Sun Microsystems Inc .

On Wednesday, Apple's directors met to discuss options but made no public statement. Investors caused little change to Apple and Sun stock Wednesday as they awaited an outcome to the dealings.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Sun had offered $ 4 billion for Apple. But The New York Times reported today that Sun's offer was only $2.76 billion. Both p apers cited anonymous sources.

The turmoil has jangled some nerves in Apple's intensely loyal base of cu stomers.

"Apple does have some real significant customer installations out there w ho are very concerned," said Michael Gartenberg, analyst at Gartner Group, a technology advisory firm in Stamf ord, Conn. "One of our clients that recently bought heavily with Apple for a (complex business network) syste m is literally sitting there listening to the radio scared to death."

Because technology purchases involve a lot of money and are usually meant to last a number of years, some companies worry that a takeov er of Apple may diminish its product support and usefulness of future products, Gartenberg said.

Gartner Group took the unusual step earlier this mo nth of recommending to its 5,000 clients, mainly large corporations, that they "buy with caution" if they already own Apple products and, if they don't, evaluate car efully.

But its clients have already figured that out. In a n October survey about their expectations for 1996, spending on Apple products was forecast to decline more than for any other manufacturer.

A representative for a major computer systems reseller, who asked not to be identified, said his company in recent weeks had "seen steadily declining revenues for Apple in the corpo rate marketplace."

At the retail level, however, demand continues to be strong for Apple com puters, especially its more powerful systems. But some customers question the sales representatives before buy ing.

"They want to be reassured they will be taken care of," said Ahron Schach ter, general manager of Datavision, a computer superstore in Manhattan. "Based on the premise of 20 million cus tomers already out there and the assurance I've received from the company, I feel very confident they will be taken care of."

Mike Kappel of Kappel's Computer Store in Belleville, Ill., said he had s een no difference in Apple demand in recent days.

"I've had people talk to me about it," Kappel said. But "Apple has always had good products."

Customer traffic was also normal at a ComputerWare store in Santa Clara, Calif., part of a 10-store chain in Silicon Valley that only sells Apple machines.

"Apple's gone through these things many times in the past, and Mac users have gone through this many times before," said store manager Steve Livinghouse. "They're very loyal and pr etty much not worried about it."