Dean Knowsley is a Wellington-born actor. You might well spot him in Yogi Bear, Avatar or The Hobbit, but between films he works selling Macs. He's done this all over the world and is currently employed at Harvey Norman Computers Lower Hutt as a Mac specialist salesman.
He's also a mean shot in Call of Duty, as I get reminded on Wednesday nights. Dean started selling Macs while he was still at high school in Sydney, working at Status Graph Computers for work experience, and got his first full-time job working for this outfit when he finished school. "It's always been my fallback." Dean was a Mac fan who used to wag school and go to Macworld Expos when they were still held in Sydney.
Since then he's sold Macs for UK resellers, worked for Apple UK, sold Macs in Russia and, back in New Zealand, worked for Magnum Mac (which became Yoobee) and Renaissance, short-lived The Bay on Lambton Quay and now he's at Harvey Norman Computers, Lower Hutt as an Apple Specialist.
We talked about the different platforms, iDevice and Mac. "I'm finding, ironically, iPads are driving more and more Mac sales. I get people coming to me saying 'well I've got an iPad and an iPhone, but I've always had a PC. Now we're thinking Apple is the way to go.' And they're buying 21.5 inch or even 27-inch iMacs. They find iCloud works so well, they figure it will be the same by adding a computer in.
"It's a bit of a cliché, but in tougher times, people don't stop spending, they just look for better value for money. You can buy a PC for $500, but you are not going to get the longevity out of it. My dad's been using the same 17-inch MacBook Pro for his business since 2006 and it's still running solid."
Personally, I notice that five years ago I was training existing Mac users how to get more out of their Macs. Nowadays most of my training is 'switchers': people who have gone to Mac after years of PC use.
That brought up the issue of support. There's a real need for this - overseas, the actual Apple Stores fulfil this need with their Genius Bars. But New Zealand doesn't have any Apple-owned retailers; just retailers licensed to sell Apple products on behalf, even though many New Zealanders I talk to assume they're dealing with Apple Stores when they buy Apple products here. They're simply not.
"What I do at Harvey Norman, for every single Apple customer, is say 'Look I'm here every day from Wednesday to Sunday, come back any time and I'll show you how to do anything you like'."
The need for this is due the fact Apple really doesn't tell you much about its products any more. Once upon a time, the manual you got with a new Mac was a thick volume. Unfortunately, apart from a few people like me, most people didn't read them. Apple realised, so now you're lucky to get a little leaflet with your expensive Apple product. It's better for the forests but worse for our knowledge.
"So basically I'm their in-store Apple guy. Since an Apple product is the same price wherever you go, you have to add value to get customers coming back." Dean tries to tailor to the needs of potential buyers, rather than letting them buy something inappropriate, and he's been enjoying the experience. This initiative is largely thanks to proprietor, Canadian Ian Scott. "I happened to call Ian at the right time, after The Hobbit finished, as an accredited Apple Specialist looking for work. It was a position he'd been thinking about instituting."
But Dean is moving to Sydney in March. Since his residency has been a success, he is being replaced with another Apple guru; the Tory Street branch in Wellington also has a resident Apple specialist.
On The Hobbit, Dean sometimes found himself dispensing Apple advice to fully-kitted-out dwarfs. "It was hilarious, sitting with 'Oin' in full prosthetics trying to sort out his iTunes. Generally in the creative sector, everyone has Macs. And in the film industry especially, because they're ultra reliable, and because security is such a big issue. Imagine having ten-thousand photos on your laptop that Empire magazine would kill for! So security and reliability are very big concerns."
So why are you moving to Australia?
"Following in the footsteps of Rusty, stepping stone to Hollywood," he laughs.
We discussed the recent prophesies of Apple heading for doom, since it hasn't meant financial analysts' expectations. "I do get the feeling Apple is losing its hip factor. If everyone has an iPad now, it's not so cool. The Silver Surfers, the Baby Boomers, the people with money - they know value when they see it. And if Generation Next or whatever it's called sees all the old people using iPads, well it sort of takes the cool out of it.
"But I don't think Apple is going down. That's partly a perception because Steve Jobs is gone."
I wonder out loud if having an expert on supply chain in CEO Tim Cook means a focusing on the trees rather than the forest - in other words, the mechanics of parts shipping over the final product. Steve Jobs focused on the end product and had people like Cook bending over backwards to make it happen.
"I think there's enough embedded and instilled culture of innovation at Apple, it's going to keep chugging along nicely. I've read rumours of some pretty amazing future products. I think Apple hasn't changed direction or slowed down, it's just a change in public perception. Apple is still making record profits and selling in strong numbers. To be honest, if a company's biggest problem is that one Map app doesn't work that well, that's a pretty successful company.
"It's been an interesting journey over the years." But he reflects "I honestly think my next phone won't be an iPhone ... unless it's really special."
This is a little shocking coming from a dyed-in-the-wool Apple fan who has even fitted a Mac to his car. His Mazda RX8 has a fully functioning Mac mini hardwired into it, run via a touch-screen that "pops out of the dash like Knight Rider. It's mainly as an entertainment centre, and takes Bluetooth audio from the iPhone. It's all automated."
This customised vehicle is going into the container to Sydney. The NZ Mac world's loss could be a huge gain for Hollywood.