Forward: A post that I saw on Facebook caught my interest, because it brought back memories of a very similar conversation that I had with someone on Facebook regarding this very subject. So it got the wheels spinning and the creative juices flowing. The post was reflecting on the niche the Commodore Amiga found in the desktop video market, and was comparing it to Apple’s position in the marketplace with the audio/video capabilities of the Mac. The question was raised if we thought the Mac is the Amiga of today, and if Commodore had marketed the Amiga correctly could the Amiga hold the same position in the market.
This is an interesting question, and one that I had discussed with a user on my BBS at one time. While you can certainly draw comparisons between the Amiga’s video, photo, and audio capabilities. You might even be able to compare the operating systems up to a point. There are a couple of things that Apple did that Commodore was no longer doing, or never did that positioned the Macintosh (The iMac and the Macintosh G3), to gain market acceptance. The final point that may have doomed the Amiga is that the concept of a multimedia computer was plain and simply ahead of its time.
Peripherals / Third Party Hardware – One of the strange things about the Commodore Amiga, is that it’s main selling point (Besides being a kick ass game machine.), was that it could be used as both a consumer, or high end video editing / titling platform. One of things Amiga users always bragged about was the fact that our computers were used by Hollywood in such projects as Terminator 2, and Seaquest DSV. However how many people do you actually know who used their Amiga for this? How easy was it to connect your Camcorder, or Video Cassette Recorders to your computer? While there were products out there for this, they were either expensive enough to place it out of reach of most consumers, or too complex. This is one of the things Apple got right! Not only did Apple produce the software, and gave it away on new Mac purchases. They incorporated 2 industry standards and coordinated with the camera and camcorder manufactures to incorporate these interfaces into their products. So I could latterly go to an electronics or camera store come home and plug it in and start working. With the Amiga we had an extremely capable device but nobody was coming on board with Commodore to make it easy for the average consumer. It’s like having a really fast and hi-tech car, but nobody is making the fuel for it to run on.
Software – Let’s face it, Apple makes some great software, even though one of my pet peeves with Apple, is that they develop these great tools, and then after a while when they decide to focus on something else they let the tools stagnate and then eventually kill them off. Not really caring if you built your workflow around their tools or not. I’ll use Aperture as an example. That aside, Apple has given us some great video and photo editing tools! For both the consumer and professional. iPhoto, iMovie, Garage Band, the before mentioned Aperture, and Final Cut Pro. These products were all geared towards how Apple was marketing their product! Except for the AmigaOS, Commodore was no longer developing software in house, nor where they driving other companies to develop applications specifically towards Amiga’s strengths. While we all know of the names of the applications geared towards Amiga’s niche. NewTeks Video Toaster, DPaint, or Lightwave. I do not know anyone who went out and specifically bought the Amiga for these applications. If you ask, you are probably going to be told more often than not that the Amiga was bought so one could play Lemmings or Pinball dreams.
Standards – Although Apple is known for developing closed systems, and walled gardens. Apple has embraced, adhered to, and developed industry standards. Which helped it establish itself in the Desktop Publishing world. For instance working closely with Adobe to develop Postscript for its flagship LaserWriter printers. Which saw the birth of Desktop Publishing virtually overnight. The adoption of IEEE1394, (Firewire) to name a few. About the only standard Commodore adhered to was NTSC or PAL for those in Europe. The complete reliance on custom chipsets, for video and sound made developing third party video cards, and audio cards almost impossible. It wasn’t until Amiga OS 3.5/4.0’s release came out that retargetable graphics was even remotely possible. This meant that any video card had to be written specifically to be used with that card or it was basically worthless. Apple had retargetable graphics since the development of the Macintosh II.
Timing – Out of the three items mentioned above, this more than anything else led to the demise of the Amiga, it was just too far ahead of its time! Nobody knew what to do with it. Even if you were able to figure it out you didn’t have anywhere to share your work. Had the Amiga come around after the advent of the internet, I think it would have been an entirely different ball game and I think the Amiga would have been used for what it was best at, multi-media. However back in 85 – 94 we didn’t have twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. Using your computer for photography, or video editing is commonplace today, because of the internet. I read a quote once of someone who had sold their Amiga and bought a Windows PC I think it went something like this,”The video editing and titling features of the Amiga are awesome. The next time I need to title a home movie, I’m sure I’ll buy an Amiga again.” Unfortunately I am sure Commodore was dead and buried before that occurred.
In conclusion, while the Amiga did have some of the same qualities that the modern day Mac does, as far as multitasking, photo, and video editing capabilities as the Amiga and it is easy to sit and ponder what if. If Apple was successful with the Mac today, if Commodore could have somehow held on would the Amiga be viable today. I do not believe so. While Commodore was a market innovator with its products, it just did not do all that good a job of marketing it, or driving the standards necessary to keep being a leader. Though I guess that might be a moot point, because that seems to have become Apple’s job, all Commodore would have had to do is follow suit. So as others have pointed out ad museum. It all came down to timing. The Amiga was just too far ahead of its time!