It is June 1997. I am at the beach enjoying myself. The world is proclaiming the imminent death of Apple Computer which recently brought co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs back on board. I disagreed that this was the end of the company. Bill Gates’ top rival could not be so easily felled and I was excited to see what Jobs would do with the company. I advocated the purchase of the stock, and I’m sure any who followed that advice are now enjoying themselves thoroughly. I believed in Apple’s products, in their niche market and in the creative forces the computers were capable of unleashing on the world. I knew the internet was changing everything and that soon this ‘niche’ might have a wider audience by doing what they did best, which was make crazy, innovative brand-name products. Apple was called ‘the Cadillac of computers’ before that comparison became as anachronistic.
The Newton, the Pippin, the Lisa, and the Mac are just a few products Apple made before becoming the behemoth it is today. Apple’s Macintosh was released to much fanfare in 1984 with a masterpiece of a commercial by one of my favorite directors, Ridley Scott. Shown as a commercial during Super Bowl XXVIII in 1984, the Mac was officially unleashed onto the world scene and is credited by some as being the beginning of the desktop publishing industry. While the Mac’s software was limited, a problem that would plague Apple continuously until the present, it made up for this with an advanced Graphical User Interface (GUI) as well as offering a laser printer as an accessory so that users could bring their PageMaker productions to life. After bringing on former Pepsi John Scully, who Jobs lured into the spot with the famous ‘would you rather sell sugar water or change the world?,’ Jobs was eventually ousted by Scully after rumors began to circulate that Jobs was organizing Scully’s ouster for restraining Jobs’ forays into untested consumer products. Jobs left and immediately founded NeXT Computer, which was later purchased by Apple to use its GUI interface. Apple then began a period of wandering in the wilderness but do not be fooled: Apple still innovated without Jobs, just not as well and without nearly the presentation and foresight Jobs later brought to product design.
The Pippin console is considered a failure of a games machine by any and all who had experience with it while the Newton, a first generation PDA from which the iPhone and iPad can trace their genealogy in some ways, was also a clumsy, unattractive market failure. Apple solidified its position as the go-to computer for education, graphic design and music production but the company faltered in enterprise, consumer computing in the vein of the PC and in capturing the magic that Jobs would later bring to the company. In a word, Apple was more like HP with a niche market share than the giant it is today. Jobs came back, and helped resurrect the company with a string of awesome products that highlighted Apple’s technological prowess, marketing savvy and design credentials. The original first generation iMac debuted with a clear teal blue plastic backing, allowing the user to see the inner workings of the unitary computer. While slightly gimmicky, it generated the buzz necessary to help Apple move forward, shortly unleashing the iPod on the world and then iTunes which has revolutionized the way music, movies, books and content is delivered and brought to the marketplace. Apple focused on its strengths, its overwhelmingly creative user base just used what was provided them to help propel the company forward. By the time I was in college in the 2000s, Apple was the computer to have and I remember looking at all the Apple computers around me and thinking about how this was not supposed to happen. No, Apple was going to die and everyone knew it. Steve Jobs helped work a miracle and in the process revolutionized computers as he was meant to do. He and his team have transformed Apple into the premier electronics company, the Mercedes Benz of computers and the envy of the PC world. The company briefly flirted with valuations above that of Exxon and was said to have more cash on hand than the federal government. Now developers clamor to develop for Mac and Apple, the ecosystem of the iTunes App Store being more than indicative of this reversal of fortune. Steve Jobs’ leaving is a bitter thing for me, having watched this saga unfold for so many years. I am heartened by my loyalty and my belief in the company has never faltered. Apple used to be supported by a very dedicated, very niche following and the new world old Apple fans find themselves in is as strange as it is beautiful. Steve Jobs has restored American credentials in electronic design and selling, besting the Japanese companies and helping to up the ante for fellow competitors. Regardless of my belief in Apple, I never imagined what has come about today. If asked a decade ago where most of the hottest electronics would be coming from I would have answered Japan without hesitation, yet now we know better. The world clamors for iPods, iPhones, iPads and Mac everything. Now Japanese competitors make knock-offs of Apple products. The PC world hasn’t changed as much as I would have hoped, but that’s only an eventuality. Apple definitely stole the spotlight and have proven their niche strategy, with its focus on quality and controlled environments, is really the creative cauldron we were always promised. Steve Jobs is a hero to me, for his drive and dogged determination in making the company, or any endeavor he undertook, a raving success. It is well-earned and deserved. I am just as nervous as anyone else about the future of Apple without Jobs, but we have to trust that enough momentum has been gained to propel it into the future. Outside of Google, I can’t think of another tech company who really attracts the upcoming talent. For his reinvention of this computer brand I applaud you Steve Jobs and I hope he is with us in the audience for years to come, watching the story of his company unfold and change the face of computing again, just like in 1984.