Thursday, 27 September 2007

An Apple A Decade

I just watched the video of 1997's Macworld - the one where Steve Jobs comes back to what seemed like a doomed company at the time, which still cultivated the enmity between Macintosh and Microsoft, started because of the mouse patent issue and all. The one where he was criticized for announcing Mac's new deal with Microsoft by presenting Bill Gates on a big screen - which was really referential to the 1984 Macintosh ad, Big Brother and all. By all accounts, Jobs seemed like a sorry little child at the time, who had lost the battle - which some may say he was right to fight in the first place, but he'd lost already - and was publicly apologizing, in a demeaning way, trying to 'be friends now'. Which, you must admit, must have taken loads of strength - and that is, I suppose, why he seems timid and sad from the beginning of his speech; contrary to this year's Macworld keynote address for example, not a month before this day, where he inspired countless nerdrections by presenting the iphone with the enthusiasm of a pro entertainer.

The thing is, I watched the 1997 video, a piece of history indeed, and could instantly see the steps along the way, a clear description of the path he climbed to get from the nadir to the zenith in one single decade's time. Throughout his speech, he goes into detail about where the company was at the time, its strengths and weaknesses and the way he was planning to address matters now that he was back... But we had no idea back then, even if he was spelling it all out for us. I remember - all we could do then was boo the apologetic acknowledgment of previous arrogance on his part, the fact that he seemed like he had to wear his underpants on his head and say sorry to the school bully.

He openly reported, and had it written on the screen for all to see, that Apple had been accused in the press of being irrelevant at the time. And he was back to deal with that, and, apparently, he had a plan *cue ominous music*. He saw things in a way that offered opportunities, many of them requiring sacrifices and compromises on their part, but all of which actually seem to have worked if you think about it ten years later.

As he saw it, the company may have been full of holes at the time, but that didn't mean that it had to be an entrepreneurial sieve - expensive blocks of French cheese have holes too. But to turn metal into cheese, the material in question had to be analyzed. So he went on to identify the company's strengths, which lied with creative professions and education, as he identified them. I knew many creative professionals, even back then, that would stand by their Macs as tools for what they did - from publishing to image and video editing pros, they saw the Mac like a baker sees his oven. And a tool it was, just like your coffee maker - which you'll never complain about it not being compatible with your PC or its incompatibility with the other appliances in your kitchen.

So he went on to identify the two things he saw as Apple's strengths: its logo and its operating system. Immediately, as those two things popped onto the screen behind him, our friend Filip came to mind - the one who briefly appears in our NPN theory docu, sitting next to his desktop Mac, his Powerbook and his iPod, and who thusly goes by the nickname iBoy. He often goes into the Mac Vs PC debate with us, and what he always mentioned, up until a few days ago when Windows Vista were released, was the fact that MacOSX was top-notch. And although we haven't seen him since Vista came out, I'm sure that anything good there, he'll point out that OSX had it first. He also pops to mind accompanied by the minimalist design of Apple products and packaging that can usually be seen floating around him, all of them prominently featuring the company's recognizable logo.

And this is where Jobs focused, it seems. But in order to use these tools, he had, there and then, to declare that Microsoft had paved his way. They could do nothing, the way things were going, without Java, the Internet Explorer, or, of course, Microsoft Office - the same tool John Hodgman's version of the PC in recent Macintosh commercials surely uses for his spreadsheets. And money would help too, especially since the two companies had recently agreed to bury the hatchet on the patent issue, and I'm sure Jobs would never have settled without some financial incentive. It was done by selling Bill Gates, not his soul, as it may have seemed at the time, but some - non-voting - shares in the Apple itself. What Forrest Gump, the well-known genius, made his money from, actually.

Overall, the moral of my story here is: You win some, you lose some. Apple would never have been the pop culture icon it is today if it hadn't swallowed its pride where it should have. Intel processors and running parallel Windows and MacOS allow the iPod to be the gadget in everyone's hand today. It's not a straight line, but it is Jobs' job.

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