I try to avoid writing too much about Apple as I have no wish to bore you (unless it’s too late for that). I could report on every product release from iMacs to MacBooks to iPods to iPhones but I hold back for fear of sounding too much of an Apple Geek. This week, however, I have been unable to resist as Steve Jobs has been named Fortune magazine’s ‘CEO of the Decade’.
I have worked with Apple products of one shape or another for over twenty years and had many conversations based on “my Mac’s better than your PC”, which invariably turn into something bordering on a school playground fight, with mice rather than duffel bags. It is true to say that Mac fans tend to evangelise a little too much (I plead guilty) but you can’t deny the passion we feel for the product.
I have defended Apple even when my evidence was flimsy to say the least. Thankfully, the company has more than recovered from the wilderness years without Steve Jobs at the helm and I now feel fully vindicated (and a little smug)...
Steve Jobs’ journey began in 1976 when, at the age of 21, he co-founded Apple with Steve Wozniak. A year later the first commercially successful mass-produced microcomputer launched – the Apple II. Job’s marketing genius coined the phrase ‘personal computer’ and Wozniak’s technical brilliance turned the dream into reality.
Roll on 1984 and the first Macintosh computer arrived in true Orwellian style, premiered in the now iconic Ridley Scott-directed ad during the Superbowl. The ad depicted IBM as Big Brother (no housemates fortunately) with Apple rebelling against the conventional desktop PCs with innovative features such as a mouse and pop up windows.
A year later and the ‘high spirited’ Jobs found himself at odds with the Apple board and having lost control of the company he resigned, leaving to start up NeXT. This venture built powerful workstations, packaged in a black magnesium cube but were cost prohibitive at $9,999 and only sold 50,000 units before NeXT turned its attention to its own operating system, NeXTSTEP, the forerunner of Mac OS X.
Not content with focussing on the computer industry alone, Jobs made a shrewd $5 million investment in the team of talented individuals formerly sat under the banner of George Lucas’s Industrial light and Magic Computer Division. Retitled Pixar and set on the road to 3D animated success, hit after hit followed. Floating publicly in 1995 netted Jobs his first billion (a tidy $7.4 billion sale to Disney in 2006 saw Jobs take a seat on the board and a 7% stock percentage valued at $3 billion – the largest share around the table).
In 1996 we find Apple in a very poor state of health. Confused and bogged down by indecision and a lack of direction. Cue Apple’s purchase of NeXT and the deal of the century as Mr. Jobs comes with the package...
“Think Different” – these are the words that in 1997 heralded the second coming of Jobs and ushered in the first Jonathan Ive-designed range of muti-coloured uni-body iMacs. Suddenly, every consumer item seemed to mirror the rainbow colours and translucency of these new computers. For the first time Apple products were having a wider influence than the computer industry. Suddenly, no advertisement or reception desk was complete without an iMac and a similarly vibrant clamshell iBook was to follow.
in 2001, hot on the heels of the rejuvenated desktop range, Jobs pioneered Apple’s music era with the introduction of iTunes (at this stage, simply a piece of Mac software for organising your music library). Enter the revolutionary iPod, backed up by the launch of the dynamic new operating system – Mac OS X.
The first iPods were hobbled by the fact that they were only Mac compatible but still represented a viable replacement for existing personal music players as they held a 1,000 songs in a compact, well designed unit. 2002 saw the market opened up to PC users, with the greatest innovation to follow the next year – iTunes now evolved into an online music store, transforming the whole process of music purchase to a one-click download of single tracks or whole albums. Now, iPods hold up to 200,000 songs (which really is your music collection in your pocket) and the iTunes store stands at 6 billion downloads and counting.
Next, Apple raised the bar for laptop quality, firstly with the launch of the titanium PowerBook and later with the move to aluminium for the entire MacBook Pro range.
In January 2007, Steve Jobs gave one of his trademark Keynote speeches, delivering the line “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone”. And so they did. In a move that made existing cellular giants Nokia, Motorolla and Sony Ericsson look as if they had been playing a different game, Apple gave us a multi-touch full screen mobile phone, incorporating an iPod, Safari web browser and email, all encased in a beautiful outer skin.
The second generation introduced the next killer concept in the form of the App Store. Now the potential of the iPhone has become almost limitless with Apple providing the hardware and independent developers continually expanding the software boundaries with sat-nav, augmented reality and thousands of games (that’s more than 100,000 apps to date, with 2 billion downloads).
The current iPhone 3GS added video recording and editing plus an improved camera. Other mobiles on the market have been playing catch-up since 2007, shouting about higher technical spec whilst still missing the point – we don’t need an iPhone, we WANT one. 30 Million users are helping to add fuel to Apple’s marketing fire by sharing their latest app with friends, who then want to join the club too.
Last month, the latest desktop line-up appeared, with an evolution of the iMac now coming with an even wider screen to move a step closer to the convergence of your home computer and your TV. The new Magic Mouse is packaged with the Mac, providing the first multi-touch technology in a mouse. Once again, ahead of the game.
What about the claims that Jobs is difficult to work with and can be a tough boss? Well, you don’t find many ‘nice’ bastions of industry – Sir Richard Branson, Sir Alan Sugar, Donald Trump and Sir Martin Sorrell didn’t go into business to make friends. It takes a tough individual to make it to the very top of their game and an even tougher one to stay there. You don’t get there by offering your seat to someone else.
Jobs has made some unpopular decisions in his career – some right and some wrong – but Steve’s a maverick and that pioneering spirit is what gives Apple its enduring strength of character today. Recent ill health has kept Jobs away from the frontline for a short spell but he is back in the diving seat now and one again setting the pace.
So what next? Apple has been credited with saving the music business at a time when music piracy and declining record sales were threatening to destroy labels, producers and artists alike. With the rumoured digital Tablet looking increasingly likely to emerge early next year, Steve’s next target could well be the publishing industry. As mentioned in more detail in my last post, Apple looks set to mop up the eBook reader market whilst breathing life into newspapers, magazines and reference material all in one must-have package (somewhat better than the original Newton, when the market and the product weren’t right).
It’s been quite a career, but an even better decade. How much longer Steve Jobs can maintain his levels of enthusiasm, energy and creativity is an unknown. When Apple’s CEO hangs up his hat, who is going to instill the same sense of pioneering free spirit that it’s competitors lack? Jonathan Ive has been talked about as a successor but it would be a great loss to distract such a creative visionary with the day to day running of one of the world’s most successful businesses.
Anyway, I’m open to offers. I’m sure I could juggle Brandwidth, the CSD, a new baby and a few trips to Cupertino. I have an iPhone, an iPod Touch, an iPod Classic, 4 laptops (including a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and original Titanium Powerbook and clamshell iBook), 2 iMacs, a Cube and a couple of Powermacs kicking around. If Apple made toilet roll holders, cutlery sets and high chairs I’d probably remortgage my house to buy them. This may seem a little extreme but does go some way to illustrate the enviable brand loyalty Apple enjoys. Long may it continue.