Apple’s Bad News and Good News

For back­ground, please read the arti­cle from

I don’t know why I care much about the fate of Apple, but I’ve been try­ing to fol­low this sto­ry along, and I am hope­ful about Apple’s future. Although I still would­n’t buy a Mac for myself (we’ll see how their NeXT-gen­er­a­tion machines look? I’m keep­ing an Open­Mind on this issue 🙂 ), I think that Apple has been a great pres­ence in this indus­try and that it would be a real shame for them to just disappear.

The news of their cuts is both refresh­ing and dis­turb­ing. Drop­ping plans for a 21-inch Apple mon­i­tor is exact­ly what they should be doing IMHO. Apple needs to con­cen­trate on what they are good at and pri­vate-label Sony’s (or any­one else’s) mon­i­tors. Same with scan­ners and modems and all sorts of periph­er­al devices and any­thing that Apple sells or man­u­fac­tures that does­n’t set Apple apart from the crowd.

The threat of drop­ping the New­ton line is not so wel­come to this New­ton user, but not entire­ly sur­pris­ing either. The New­ton is too big and too expen­sive to com­pete against the Pilot and the WinCE machines, although the size and the price at least the­o­ret­i­cal­ly allow it to be more use­ful than the oth­er devices. This is doubt­ful­ly of any import to those who sim­ply desire an elec­tron­ic address book with which to impress their friends (I under­stand, hav­ing impressed my friends five years ago with an elec­tron­ic address book in my wrist­watch, that I am bet­ter off stick­ing to func­tion­al cri­te­ria as the impres­sion I made was not entire­ly a pos­i­tive one. PDA buy­ers of the world will even­tu­al­ly fig­ure out that PDAs are not as cool as we think).

Apple can­not afford to lose its per­ceived posi­tion as a mar­ket leader. Although Apple has done lit­tle lead­ing of late, there are places where its ener­gies and resources can be focused to bet­ter the com­pa­ny even with­out a rev­o­lu­tion­ary «next insane­ly great thing.» If this is what the cuts mean, great. The com­put­er indus­try can do with­out Apple as a mak­er of periph­er­als for Mac­in­tosh com­put­ers.

What has hap­pened over the past decade is that Apple has got­ten away from its roots and vision. Some would say Apple spent too much time in bed with IBM. I think Apple prob­a­bly has spent too much time in bed with Pep­si­Co think­ing. Diver­si­fi­ca­tion into all mar­kets means becom­ing a mar­ket fol­low­er rather than a mar­ket leader. Guy Kawasa­ki in his book How To Dri­ve Your Com­pe­ti­tion Crazy tells the sto­ry of a lit­tle motor­cy­cle com­pa­ny named Hon­da that broke into the Amer­i­can mar­ket by sell­ing an auto­mo­bile. Fun­da­men­tal­ly, Hon­da was in the busi­ness of build­ing and sell­ing motors. Whether they were motor­cy­cle motors or auto­mo­bile motors is irrel­e­vant. What is impor­tant is that Hon­da able to see where an out­ward change was still the same prod­uct. Apple might want to start lis­ten­ing to Guy these days.

What is Apple’s core prod­uct? Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom pegs it as the Mac­in­tosh, or per­haps as Pow­er­PC chips. If this were true, Apple would be noth­ing more than an unsuc­cess­ful Microsoft. Apple did­n’t get suc­cess­ful sell­ing hard­ware, Apple got suc­cess­ful sell­ing inno­va­tion, and inno­va­tion dri­ves the tech­nol­o­gy busi­ness more than any­thing else. This may have been dif­fi­cult for John Scul­ley to see, because you don’t make mon­ey sell­ing new kinds of soda pop.

That’s what the Mac rep­re­sent­ed in 1984; a new way of doing things. A bet­ter user inter­face for end users. The Mac was about bring­ing the tech­nol­o­gy to the peo­ple instead of keep­ing it locked in the ivory tow­ers of a dig­i­tal elite who under­stood the syn­tax of a com­mand-line inter­face. When the Mac came on the mar­ket, I sneered at the «yup­pie etch-a-sketch» I saw. How do you grep on a Mac? But it was not being mar­ket­ed to me. It was in fact being mar­ket­ed against the exist­ing user base. Why? Because they had a faster chip? Of course not. The 68000 was a dog even in 1984. The Mac­in­tosh was a new prod­uct, the next gen­er­a­tion of com­put­ing, and what you paid for was a new way of doing things. The hard­ware was irrelevant.

Do you remem­ber their ads in 1984? Con­cept, con­cept, con­cept. Do you remem­ber Apple’s ads from last week? I don’t, which should be a telling sign in and of itself, but I can look them up. Clock speed, clock speed, clock speed. What has hap­pened here? Apple ads may as well be Dell ads. Gone are the days of even those Gap-like Power­book ads. Is there any ques­tion here why Apple is in trou­ble? Apple is com­pet­ing with PC clones and Microsoft. Instead, Apple should be dec­i­mat­ing PC clones and Microsoft, in pub­lic aware­ness even if not in sales. Apple prefers to go head to head on the low ground it can all it wants, but Apple will have to drag itself up by its boot­straps if it wants to survive.

Hey, maybe all the inno­v­a­tive thinkers left Apple when Jobs was fired. Maybe those that stayed on were beat­en down by a Dil­ber­tized «New Apple» run by Scul­ley. Maybe Apple just does­n’t have it any­more. If that’s true, Apple should get kicked around by the mar­ket forces.

But just for peace of mind, I’d like to know that some­one out there can suc­ceed by sell­ing inno­va­tion. Oth­er­wise we’re all stuck using Win­dows, and I don’t just mean us com­put­er users. I give it maybe five years before the first Win­dows dish­wash­ers are on the mar­ket. Do you real­ly want to rein­stall mouse dri­vers just to get your stove to light?

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