The most in­flu­en­tial eras in Ap­ple’s his­tory

Ap­ple’s busi­ness ap­proach and po­si­tion in the mar­ket has var­ied over the years. Ja­son Snell re­ports

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

Iwrote my first story about Ap­ple in 1993, mean­ing I’ve been cov­er­ing Ap­ple for 60 per cent of its ex­is­tence. Lately, I’ve re­al­ized that be­yond a few ma­jor mile­stones, most peo­ple don’t re­ally re­mem­ber

Ap­ple as any­thing but a tech­nol­ogy ti­tan. But the two very dif­fer­ent Ap­ples of the 1990s and early 2000s are worth re­mem­ber­ing, rather than los­ing them in a hazy mud­dle that be­gins with Steve Jobs leav­ing Ap­ple and ends with the ar­rival of the App Store.

I’ve tried to cat­e­go­rize the his­tory of Ap­ple into six dis­tinct eras where the com­pany’s ap­proach and po­si­tion were re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent, with spe­cial at­ten­tion paid to the two most un­der­sold eras in com­pany his­tory.

The Hob­by­ist Era (1976-1982)

You know the story. Two guys named Steve built a com­pany in a garage in the ear­li­est days of the per­sonal com­put­ing. There’s been plenty of myth‑mak­ing about this era in Ap­ple’s his­tory, and for good rea­son. In 1982, high on Ap­ple II sales, Ap­ple hired John Scul­ley of Pepsi as its CEO, and this era came to an end.

The Cor­po­rate Era (1982-1992)

This era en­com­passes the con­tin­ued suc­cess of the Ap­ple II, the re­lease of the Mac­in­tosh, and the Mac’s growth un­der Scul­ley. It’s funny to think about how Jobs’s leg­endary shep­herd­ing of the orig­i­nal Mac project came as his power base in the com­pany was crum­bling, and a year af­ter the Mac ar­rived, Steve Jobs was gone.

What re­mained was a com­pany that was ready to it­er­ate on that orig­i­nal Mac and take it to some great places. The Mac be­came dom­i­nant in me­dia cir­cles thanks to the ad­vent of desk­top pub­lish­ing. My first Mac was an SE, pur­chased in this pe­riod.

Ap­ple grew a lot dur­ing this pe­riod, trans­form­ing from the leg­endary garage start‑up into a more tra­di­tional cor­po­ra­tion. Mi­crosoft and IBM PCs loomed as threats, but the Mac was still clearly the best choice for the job – and the money flowed.

The Doom Era (1992-1998)

I tell peo­ple that I started writ­ing about Ap­ple when it was doomed. And in­deed, de­cid­ing to spe­cial­ize in Ap­ple com­put­ers in 1993 seemed about as smart as cov­er­ing ra­dio dra­mas dur­ing the roll‑out of tele­vi­sion. Mi­crosoft was on the march, and the re­lease of Win­dows 95 mas­sively closed the gap be­tween Macs and PCs, rob­bing Ap­ple of one of its great ad­van­tages.

The Pow­erBook, re­leased at the very start of this era, was a win­ning prod­uct that helped earn Ap­ple a lot of good­will. But that good­will was rapidly squan­dered with the dis­as­trous sec­ond‑gen­er­a­tion Pow­erBook, the 500 se­ries, and its even more dis­as­trous suc­ces­sor, the Pow­erBook 5300.

Ap­ple CEO John Scul­ley was booted dur­ing this pe­riod, and his re­place­ments got in­creas­ingly less in­spir­ing. Ap­ple had a whole lot of money dur­ing this pe­riod, and not a whole lot of sense, and it flailed around to find a so­lu­tion that would al­low it to be­come the leg­endary Ap­ple of the pre­vi­ous era again. It also shot it­self in the foot re­peat­edly, as it did when it li­censed Mac OS to out­side hard­ware mak­ers to cre­ate Mac clones.

And just like that, the money ran out. Gil Ame­lio, the clue­less ex­ec­u­tive left hold­ing the bag, only had a few moves left. Even his sin­gle best de­ci­sion as Ap­ple CEO was a happy ac­ci­dent: des­per­ate to find a mod­ern op­er­at­ing sys­tem be­cause of Ap­ple’s in­abil­ity to build a new ver­sion of Mac OS, he ended up get­ting talked into buy­ing NeXT.

Yes, NeXTSTEP be­came the foun­da­tion of all of Ap­ple’s op­er­at­ing sys­tems to this day. But even more im­por­tant was that the founder of NeXT, Steve Jobs, came along with the pur­chase.

The Resur­gent Era (1998-2008)

The pop­u­lar nar­ra­tive of Steve Jobs’s re­turn to Ap­ple is sim­ple: Jobs came back and saved every­thing. Which, yes, that did end up hap­pen­ing. But I think it gives short shrift to this very in­ter­est­ing pe­riod at Ap­ple, where

Jobs was back and putting his plans in mo­tion, but Ap­ple was also hun­gry to try any­thing and every­thing to get back in the game.

We re­mem­ber the suc­cesses. The orig­i­nal iMac, in­tro­duced in 1998, re­ally marks the start of the turn­around. The iPod fol­lowed in 2001, and com­bined with the launch of Ap­ple’s re­tail stores, Ap­ple changed its brand, brought back the Mac, and primed the pump for the launch of the iPhone.

But there were fail­ures and false starts, too. Ap­ple’s part­ner­ship with IBM in 2003 led to Ap­ple an­nounc­ing the Power Mac G5 and Jobs promis­ing a 3GHz pro­ces­sor would be avail­able within a year. IBM was never able to de­liver and Ap­ple ended up hav­ing to jet­ti­son the en­tire Pow­erPC al­liance and run into the arms of In­tel, for­merly Ap­ple’s arch‑en­emy.

And in 2002, Jobs stood on stage, mocked Ap­ple’s pre­vi­ous ef­forts to sell server hard­ware, and ex­plained how Ap­ple would re­main com­mit­ted with the new Xserve server, Xserve RAID stor­age ar­ray, and Mac

OS X Server soft­ware. It was worth a shot, but it just didn’t work out – and both Xserve and Mac OS X Server slowly faded away as Ap­ple found bet­ter ar­eas in which to fo­cus.

And then there were Ap­ple’s bum­bling at­tempts to add on­line ser­vices to its port­fo­lio dur­ing this pe­riod, from .Mac to Mo­bileMe. iCloud has evolved into a solid ser­vice, but only af­ter more than a decade of belly flops.

Yes, there was magic in the early era of Jobs’s re­turn. But it was hardly an ef­fort­less per­for­mance. In this era, Ap­ple was sweat­ing – try­ing hard, and of­ten, to find places where it could push it­self for­ward. We re­mem­ber the suc­cess, but maybe not the sweat.

The Era of Ex­pan­sion (2008-2015)

Be­gin­ning with the launch of the App Store in 2008, this is the era in which Ap­ple went from be­ing a big tech com­pany to be­ing one of the rich­est and most pow­er­ful com­pa­nies in the world, largely on the growth of the iPhone.

In this era, Ap­ple in­tro­duced the iPad, rapidly ad­vanced iOS against com­pe­ti­tion from An­droid, honed its chip‑mak­ing skills, and made enor­mous amounts of cash. By 2015, how­ever, iPhone growth be­gan to slow. You can mark the end of the era in 2015 or, if you pre­fer, 2018. But I’d ar­gue that once iPhone growth slowed to a crawl, the era of Ap­ple’s rapid ex­pan­sion had come to an end.

The Tech Ti­tan Era (2015-present)

And then there’s the cur­rent era, in which Ap­ple is find­ing growth in new ar­eas be­yond the iPhone – most no­tably wear­ables (Ap­ple Watch, AirPods) and ser­vices. Ap­ple’s a gi­gan­tic force in the world, the tar­get of reg­u­la­tory in­ves­ti­ga­tions and white pa­pers from politi­cians who seek to limit its reach.

Where does the com­pany go from here? It seems like a re­turn to Doom is un­likely, but there’s a real ques­tion about whether Ap­ple is go­ing to en­ter a pe­riod of senes­cence, where it makes loads of money but stops grow­ing and chang­ing, or if the cor­po­rate cul­ture de­fined by Steve Jobs drives Ap­ple’s cur­rent gen­er­a­tion to­ward new prod­ucts, new cat­e­gories, and a con­stant rein­ven­tion of what Ap­ple is. If I’ve learned any­thing in the past 27 years, it’s that Ap­ple rarely stands still for very long. Per­haps some­time this decade, Ap­ple will exit its post‑iPhone pe­riod and en­ter an­other ex­cit­ing new pe­riod of growth and change. I sure wouldn’t bet against it.

The Pow­erBook 5300cs, a sym­bol of the Doom Era

Ap­ple’s Steve Jobs (left) and In­tel’s Paul Otellini (right) talk about Ap­ple’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of In­tel pro­ces­sors in Mac­in­tosh com­put­ers. Ap­ple WWDC 2005

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.