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SALT LAKE CITY -- Before we get started here, let's get a few things straight.
I am not an Apple Hater.
I started using Macs back in the 90's when I worked for a newspaper doing advertising layout. We used the Macs for layout and electronic pre-press instead of sending the huge printing plates to the printer. Nothing could do the job like the Macs.
Efficiency in the offices increased due to the simplicity and intuitive interface of the MacOS, and, of course, my brilliant code. Well, mostly because of the intuitive interface of the MacOS.
I have since that time owned Mac devices from the original iPod to the latest iPad model. I don’t care what theory you subscribe to, they make some awesome tech.
I will also admit, I am primarily a user of other devices and other mobile operating systems. I try to avoid comparisons and realize that all of them fill a need in the market and appeal to different people.
I think the "this is better than that" mindset is juvenile and narrow-minded. Why can't we just all get along?
Anyway, now that we're on the same page, let me tell you why I think Apple will fail.
I should point out, of course, that this is a theory. I realized my crystal ball was flawed many years ago when Truman defeated Dewey. OK, I’m not quite that old. My theory is based on the “past behavior is the best predictor of future performance” principle.
Apple’s history is fraught with evidence that the company’s success is very closely tied, maybe even inextricably tied, to the actions, ideas, and presence of Steve Jobs. There’s no reason to believe that its future isn’t bound to the same fate.
When Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985, you know, when John Sculley didn’t fire him, Apple launched into a singularly unimpressive 12-year period of net flat stock prices and uninspired leadership. John Sculley, former CEO of Pepsi, and Gil Amelio, previously the CEO of National Semiconductor, proved to the world that CEOs with proven track records of leadership could do nothing but steer the Apple ship into the seas of mediocrity.
It was during this period that Apple proved it could be just like all the other boring, dull tech companies. They did the “licensing thing” with Motorola and released several laptops, desktops, and servers. It was a very unexciting time in Apple history, and the stock price was slowly dwindling away along with market share. By 1997, it seemed the end was inevitable.
Then, Jobs returned.
The Apple Offensive
Apple went on the offensive and, just over a year later, released the iMac. The excitement was back. The stock soared out of the thirteen-dollars-a-share bargain basement to an unprecedented $141.31 a share on March 22, 2000. Jobs had almost single-handedly resurrected the rotting Apple with the first directive from the captain’s chair since his return.
The Dot Com Bomb of 2000, the housing market collapse, and The Great Recession, none of these were enough to keep Apple down. If you look at the graph below, Apple’s stock prices began a steady climb after the Dot Com Bomb and soared to an insane $400 a share with the iPhone and iPad releases while most of the rest of the world was languishing in financial despair.
Did you notice the drop in the stock when Jobs’ health issues became apparent and he took medical leave from the company in 2009? Is it just me, or is it significant that, while Apple was riding the wave from the iPhone success, it took such a downturn on the bad news surrounding Jobs health? Sure, Apple recovered, but why? Because of the iPad, another brilliant idea from Steve Jobs.
Apple’s success has always been tied to the truly brilliant ideas of Steve Jobs. As a matter of fact, the other companies started by Jobs, NeXT and Pixar, reveal some other interesting precedents that speak volumes about what happens to companies that were started by Jobs when he leaves.
Even though NeXT wasn’t exactly wildly successful, the technology developed at NeXT was brought back to Apple with Jobs and became the basis for OS X, dragging Apple kicking and screaming into the Open Source world. NeXT has been reduced to nothing more than a user group consisting of the remnants of a small, zealous user base and former employees.
Pixar, well, that’s a little different. When Disney bought Pixar in 2006 and made Steve Jobs a board member (and its largest shareholder), their intent was to get their hands on the Pixar platform which was their implementation of the industry standard RenderMan.
Disney has writers, but they needed something to take their in-house, half-baked animation to the next level. Who had the answer? Steve Jobs. The technology is now part of Disney, and Pixar, while not forgotten, is nothing more than a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney. Pixar, another of Jobs creations, will always be remembered for revolutionizing animation.
The "After-Jobs" Apple
Apple enthusiasts, it’s time to face facts. Apple, the company, was the fortunate recipient of the genius of Steve Jobs. Put simply, Apple was Steve Jobs. It doesn’t matter that he hand-picked his replacement because his replacement isn’t Steve Jobs and, as we've seen, great leadership doesn't equate to a healthy Apple. No amount of teaching and indoctrination can duplicate what Steve brought to the table. I challenge anyone to show me one thing with any staying power that came out of Apple that isn’t tied to Steve Jobs.
Guys like Steve Jobs don’t come along every day. Sure, there are smart people out there, but Steve Jobs was more than just smart. Steve Jobs possessed something unique and special. He was an inventor, artist, gearhead, hippie, and businessman all rolled into a single package and he excelled at all of those things. He was just wired differently than most people and that is truly a gift. I can’t go to school to learn that.
Will Apple’s fate resemble that of NeXT or Pixar? Maybe I’m totally wrong and Apple will survive “as is” after all, which is what I truly hope will happen. Apple was a pioneer in the user experience. They remind us that technology is about the people that use it. That was the guiding principle behind everything Jobs did.
Steve Jobs has been compared to Thomas Edison and I believe the analogy is appropriate. Just like we all have light bulbs in our homes 130 years after the first successful test that vaguely resemble the original invention, people 130 years from now will most likely have something similar to an iPod with all their favorite tunes on it connected to the sound system in their flying car.
We may have had those sooner if Jobs had gotten into the car business.
Eric Sisler is a blogger and technology enthusiast. Read his blog at sislersblogabouteverything.blogspot.com for information on open source projects, cloud computing and other nifty topics.