1997-2007: The 10 Year Apple Comeback

Written by Scrivs

In 1997 Steve Jobs was named the interim CEO of Apple after haven been “ousted” in 1985 by the same company. It was a year of uncertainty and doom for Apple. You couldn’t go a month without reading an article by a major publication proclaiming the death of Apple. Back then you had to wonder why Steve Jobs would take on such a task, but now the answer is clear: because he knew he could make it work.

In June 1997, Wired published 101 Ways to Save Apple. Looking over the list there are some solid suggestions and no one could blame Apple for listening to most, if not all of them. You do have to chuckle at the very first item though:

1. Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game. Outsource your hardware production, or scrap it entirely, to compete more directly with Microsoft without the liability of manufacturing boxes.

Some other gems on the list

2. License the Apple name/technology to appliance manufacturers and build GUIs for every possible device – from washing machines to telephones to WebTV. Have them all use the same communications protocol. Result: you monopolize the market for smart devices/homes.

21. Sell yourself to IBM or Motorola, the PowerPC makers. You can become the computer division that Motorola wants or the alternative within IBM. This would give the company volume for its PowerPC devices and leverage for other PowerPC offerings.

27. Relocate the company to Bangalore and make it cheap, cheap, cheap.

42. Organize a telethon. Hire Jerry Lewis to get dewy-eyed over the new line of Mac products.

81. Merge with Sega and become a game company.

101. Don’t worry. You’ll survive. It’s Netscape we should really worry about. (Too true)

In July Dave Winer wrote The Sure Road to Bankruptcy and if you read it back then there is good reason to believe all of his points. My favorite though has to be his thoughts on Steve Jobs.

Jobs was the wrong person to choose to turn around Apple because that isn’t what he wants. He wants to turn around Next. And he’s willing to lose Apple to do it. Jobs calls the shots at Apple, Amelio has no power. Eventually I expect a bankruptcy and a shoulder shrug from Jobs as he leaves. “I tried,” he’ll say.

Finally we have BusinessWeek asking Is Apple Mincemeat?

Macworld Boston 1997

The first parts are depressing showcasing the type of media coverage Apple was receiving around the time. Then five minutes in Steve Jobs gets introduced and even watching the video you can feel the electricity that he brings to the crowd. Same Steve walk and basically the same Steve outfit. What is interesting about this talk is that unlike most leaders who would try to hide what is wrong, Steve talks about them head on and offers solutions.

It is funny to watch the crowds reaction to the change in the Board of Directors. Just listen to the reactions that Larry Ellison receives. At the 27 minute mark he talks about the Microsoft partnership and the crowd gives an unsure reaction. Their reaction to Internet Explorer? Boooooooooooooooo.

To put 1997 into perspective it could have easily gone one of two ways. Apple could have folded and become known as a great company that doomed itself or they could have found a way to turn things around and lucky for us it seems they have done so.

Here are some major events that have occurred between 1997-2006:

1998 iMac/233 Released

1999 iBook tops notebooks sales

2000 PowerMac Cube Released and Steve Jobs becomes permanent CEO

2001 The Second Year of the Turnaround

I call 2001 the 2nd year because if 1997 was the first step by hiring Steve Jobs, then 2001 was the 2nd step of the comeback and 1st to actually get into the minds of the public. Sure most people knew about Apple, but the public at large really had nothing to care about with regards to Apple. They had their PCs and life was good. In 2001 Apple released both the iPod and OS X and laid the foundation for dominance in the music business and the return to relevance for the desktop.

To see how some people in the industry reacted to the release of the iPod look no further than Slashdot.

No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

Another noteworthy event was the first Apple store opening in MacLean, Va. People were unsure of how good of an idea the Apple Store was, but they have been nothing short of a resounding success for the company.

2002 iMac G4 Released (Who didn’t want one of these badboys?) and less notable, but even more important they buy music software company Emagic.

2003 iTunes music store opens and the digital music empire is complete.

2004 iMac G5 released

2005 iPod Nano and the video iPod are released along with the announced partnership with Intel

2007 Another deciding year

This year Apple has given us the iPhone, one of the most celebrated pieces of technology in recent memory. However, this could also be the product that causes people to lose their faith in Apple. People have claimed that this product shows the arrogance that Apple has now gained from their newfound dominance in certain markets. People loved the Apple comeback story, but now that they are the top dogs people want to love them for doing the right thing for them, not the greedy thing for stockholders.

October is another big month for Apple with the release of Leopard, which was delayed because Apple had to put more developers on the iPhone to get things perfect. Will they release a SDK for the iPhone with it? Will there be some remarkable unannounced features to go along with it? We can only wait to see.

10 years from now will we look at 2007 as the year Apple made the mistake of partnering with the wrong companies and upsetting part of its loyal fanbase? Or will it be the year they almost fell, but gathered themselves for another strong 10 year run? One thing is for certain, Apple has produced one of the most remarkable comebacks of any company in U.S. history.