Painful as it can be, we all ask ourselves from time to time, “what if?”
The tech industry is full of products and ideas that didn’t- for various reasons- live up to their potential. One of those was arguably Commodore International’s Amiga line of computers.
Last month, Florida’s Commodore USA LLC, which licensed the name of the company that went bankrupt in 1994, released the Amiga Mini for sale on its Web site.
Unfortunately for both past and present lovers of the Amiga, this is unlikely to be a comeback story.
And, while the Amiga now appeals to nostalgic fans of the brand or hobbyists, its history can teach the industry a lot about business strategy.
For one former Amiga insider, the product’s history is really one of a great product losing its momentum thanks to poor management and a lack of vision.
“I can’t imagine, unless they actually come out with an application, rather than a little piece of hardware, that the brand is going to make a comeback,” Jeff Evans, a Newmarket, Ont.-based writer and former Amiga executive, told CDN.
Almost immediately following the 1985 launch of the Amiga 1000, Evans became one of its early buyers. Evans was at that time the owner of a typesetting output company. “Unlike the Mac that had come out the year before, the Amiga was a colour machine,” he said. That, along with great sound quality and graphics, led the powerful multimedia computer to gain popularity, especially in Western Europe.
“There was this very creative cyber-culture community internationally, but also fairly significant in the greater Toronto area.”
For the next few years, Evans began collaborating with those individuals and companies developing programs for the Amiga in Canada. Eventually, that led to Evans becoming Commodore’s product manager in Canada from 1989 to 1991 for the Amiga line, which he contends was superior to Macs and PCs, at first. “In many cases, the animations and graphics for a lot of games on the PC and eventually on the Mac would be done on the Amiga and then be converted over,” he said.
Unfortunately, any momentum the Amiga built didn’t last.
“The biggest problem with the Amiga I think was that fundamentally, Commodore’s management was oriented towards a commodity mentality and a sort of … stock promotion philosophy in terms of their business plan,” Evans said.
“Nobody there was either a technical visionary like Bill Gates or a technical and user experience visionary like Steve Jobs,” he said. “To say they didn’t understand how to market the machine is absolutely true but on an even more fundamental level, they didn’t understand the technology that they had purchased.”
During that time, Commodore also cut research and development on the Amiga, he said. That standstill led the Mac to rocket past the Amiga in terms of sales and developer focus. “The Amiga lost its unique position as the multimedia video machine and it became obsolete at a time when prices were dropping.”
It’s a problem not unheard of today. “The saddest (example) of all is, of course, RIM, because they were so brilliant,” he said of the BlackBerry-maker.
“The prospect for RIM is not bright and I think it’s because they didn’t dream big enough and work hard enough to stay at the forefront,” he said. “They became a target rather than a leader, and I think that’s what Commodore became.”
Like the Amiga’s management, RIM’s leadership has lacked the same passion and focus on the user that has propelled Apple products (among others) forward. “You get certain opportunities and then time passes by,” Evans said. “If you haven’t remained on the forefront, then it’s excruciating to catch up.”