Apple Then and Now

Steve by Nitrozac

With all of our information technology and science, it seems that we human beings are more prone than ever to widely held falsehoods. Even in this day of global communications with the whole of human knowledge at our fingertips, we tend to believe the falsehoods notwithstanding easily available truth. Myths are always more compelling. Hitler called it “The Big Lie.” In short, tell a lie so big that few would believe that anyone would make something so utterly ridiculous up. There is also the relatively new concept of the “meme.”

Meme is a very useful word as it applies to information that spreads virally. An idea, concept, or some piece of “information” is transmitted from one person to the next, and spreads exponentially.

When a big lie graduates to meme status, and travels over conventional as well as new media, false knowledge can infect the group mind at the speed of light, and as Hitler indicated, getting rid of the falsehood, even in the face of demonstrable truth, is extremely difficult. We attempt to rationalize the lie, rather than believe we are just that stupid.

The reason I bring it up is that I’ve been thinking about Apple. There’s nothing unusual about that, but in particular I’ve been thinking about Apple then, vs. Apple now, with regard to the health of Steve Jobs.

It started on Friday morning 02/26/11. I had the privilege of hearing Leo La Porte advertise his radio program in Los Angeles. He was on with Bill Handle on KFI 640 AM. The subject of Steve Jobs’s health came up. Handle asked Leo about the ability of Apple to survive without Steve, and Leo, without missing a beat, essentially pronounced Jobs already dead, and that the company would follow.

This isn’t surprising. Whether it’s one of his little tirades against the iPhone and how much he loves Android, or his claims that Apple is now the new “Big Brother,” La Porte never misses an opportunity to besmirch Apple. He’s a very smart man, with a phenomenal memory for his age, and I greatly enjoy and highly recommend the potpourri of tech programming put out by his Twit.TV network, but as of late there is a detectible slant to his discourse. It’s a little sad.

In this particular example, Leo contends that Apple was fine before Steve Jobs was ousted. After that the company floundered. Upon Steve’s triumphant return, the company skyrocketed, so if Jobs were to leave for whatever reason, obviously the company would flounder again.

According to Leo’s reasoning, all of the other 50,000 employees at Apple do absolutely nothing. Steve creates the products in his head, alone with no input. Steve does the industrial design. Steve writes all the software. Steve does all the manufacturing. Every Mac, iPod, iPad, iPhone, keyboard, mouse, system board, and line of code is lovingly assembled in Cupertino by Steve Jobs.

Steve is a genius, but he’s not Santa Claus who last time I checked was still the only person who could be everywhere simultaneously in one night. Notwithstanding the strength and stature of Jobs, Apple is a large company with an extraordinary number of highly talented people.

Here’s one of those meme falsehoods that you will often hear. In fact La Porte stated it on the radio program. Steve Jobs invented the iPod. Steve’s influence on the iPod was significant to say the least, but the iPod was the brainchild of many. To begin with, it was not the only mp3 player on the market. There was a team of people involved in creating the iPod at Apple. Jonathan Ive we all know. He’s the ultra-cool industrial design guru at Apple, with the black t-shirt, great accent and five o’clock shadow.

According to one article I read the team consisted of:

  • Jon Rubinstein, then the company’s senior vice president of hardware engineering; now at Palm
  • Jonathan Ive, senior vice president of design at Apple
  • Tony Fadell, an engineer and former senior vice president of the iPod division
  • Michael Dhuey, an engineer; now at Cisco Systems
  • Steve Jobs, the company’s CEO, who oversaw the project

According to the same article, the name iPod came from a freelance copywriter named Vinnie Chieco. In addition, the iPod was based on an initial design by another company called PortalPlayer. As I recall, PortalPlayer created the iPhone operating system and user interface.

There are many articles and videos on the Internet concerning the history of the iPod so you can check this stuff out yourself. The point is that any creation that comes from Apple is likely the result of interdisciplinary contributions from multiple sources and gifted individuals, not just Steve Jobs

However, don’t misunderstand me.

After Steve was forced out of Apple, by the sugar water salesman, the company seemed to enter a state of extended limbo. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the changes were so dramatic and so fast that no one can deny the power of his influence. Apple began to churn out unique products that resonated deeply with consumers. It was as if the company went from also-ran to leader of the pack over night. The first product out the door was the iMac.

In Feb. of 1996, in an interview with Fortune Magazine, Steve Jobs was quoted as saying, “If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.

One way of looking at that quote is that the iMac was the beginning of the milking, and that he milked the existing Mac operating system for all it was worth using it. In 1998 the iMac was introduced. It was a revolutionary little all-in-one computer that came in multiple colors. Competitors laughed at it focusing on the different colors available and never really paying attention to what was appealing about the iMac. The iMac brought simplicity to setting up computers. It was one of the first “Legacy-Free PCs.” It dropped the floppy disk, and instead opted for a new fangled interface that few people had heard of; USB. People loved it.

In 1997, Apple acquired Steve’s other computer company NeXT, and in a nutshell the NeXT OS, OPENSTEP, became the basis for the new Mac OS, Mac OS X. A play on words, the X in OS X meant OS 10, since it was to be the next version of the Mac OS after the faltering Mac OS 9. In addition, it was hard to not to feel that the X came from NeXT. Some might say that Steve had fulfilled his promise to “get started on the NeXT great thing.”

The first public beta of OS X was released in 2000. OS X has since evolved into what is arguably the most advanced general purpose operating system on the market. Shortly after the iMac and OS X came the iPod in 2001 and soon Apple was looking at its previous troubles and competitors in the rear view mirror.

After the iPod came yet another juggernaut that I personally believed would never happen. The iPhone. Once again competitors laughed. And what happened? Almost every mobile phone worth mentioning now is an iPhone clone.

The iPhone is an interesting example. As the story goes, the way Steve tells it, Apple was working on the iPad and when he looked at was was developing he felt that what they had also created a great platform for a phone, and they shifted direction at least temporarily from the larger tablet to the smaller tablet/phone. Yes, contrary to popular belief, the iPhone is a small iPad, not the other way around.

Obviously the extraordinary success of Apple occurred with Steve at the helm. None of this would have happened had Steve not been there. Consequently some people assume that were Steve to leave, Apple would suddenly fail, at best lose steam, at worse become the same floundering post John Sculley, post Gil Amelio mess that Steve inherited.

I believe it is vital, before offering a puerile Leo La Porte type answer to ask; Is Apple 2011 the same as Apple 1996,  the Apple that Steve resurrected? The answer is obviously no.

For the last 15 years Apple has experienced quarter after quarter of record breaking results. The company has somewhere between $40 and $50 billion in cash in the bank. Serious liquidity. The entire business model of her competitors from Google to HP to Motorola, etc., seems to be based on attempting to anticipate what Apple is going to do next and mimic it as quickly as possible. The last Consumer Electronics Show was essentially an assemblage of iPad aspirants.

During this time Steve Jobs has led and groomed his company. It is impossible to work there without becoming imprinted with the Steve Jobs mind and mojo. It is relatively clear who Steve’s successor will be, i.e. COO Tim Cook. Mr. Cook has led the company before and it didn’t miss a beat.  Mr. Cook cites Apple’s laser-sharp focus as being a major reason for her success. Indeed, Apple doesn’t have zillions of kooky products and divisions. You can put everything the company makes on a conference table.

These are the influences of Steve Jobs. It is my contention that the goals, ideas, and methods of Jobs are now the DNA of the company. His drive and vision are the soul of the organization. In other words, Steve Jobs is Apple, and Apple is Steve Jobs. They are one in the same whether together or separate.

Steve’s health took a turn for the worse earlier this year. He continues to be involved and making decisions for the company though he isn’t in his office every day. Apple has just announced a new line of MacBook Pro laptops, and people are waiting literally with abated breath for the new iPads. Nary a day goes by that I don’t receive an email asking when the new iPads will arrive.

The reason I’ve written this post is that La Porte’s answer was not only simplistic, it was a disservice to the people listening.  His notion that Apple cannot exist without Steve Jobs shows no thought or analysis whatsoever, and yet he is regarded as a tech analyst by many who don’t know better.

In the event Steve leaves Apple, there will likely be a sell off of Apple stock because of people like La Porte. If and when that occurs, it should be regarded as a buying opportunity by those in the market. With or without Steve, it is clear to me that Apple will go on for a very long time setting the course for the industry. Don’t simply accept the big lie, the meme, because it is a convenient lazy answer.

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