AMITIAE - Monday 28 April 2014

Cassandra: Catalysts on the Path to Apple Successes

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Many place the beginnings of the transformation of Apple into a major corporation to the moment in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced. Contrary to that, I believe that the seeds for Apple's growth were sown much earlier. The adoption of OS X as Apple's operating system for the Mac, was a more important catalyst. There are a number of other related events, before and since, that have created the company that Apple now is.

Apple had had a number of successes before the original Macintosh computer was announced, including of course the Apple I and II and then the Lisa which in its own way led to the Macintosh. The Mac was when 1984 wasn't going to be like 1984 and the consumer was to be freed from the shackles of Big Blue (IBM), although history now shows us a different story as IBM never really benefitted from the desktop computer revolution. Instead, Microsoft dominated for most of the modern computer age.

Steve Jobs I

Susan Kare icons The Mac brought out the best and the worst in Steve Jobs. While he drove the team towards his own ideas of perfection, the ways in which this was done exasperated many who worked for him directly and Apple's own management. Yet at the same time, he took existing features, such as the mouse and the graphic user interface which had already been created at Xerox PARC and motivated his teams to develop them into practical, everyday items.

With the GUI he enlisted the help of Susan Kare who created many icons for the original Mac that are still in use today. As part of the GUI/computer perfection he was aiming for, the Mac OS made available many fonts that would print as seen on the screen: what is now referred to as WYSIWYG. In 1985 I was using a PC with MSDOS installed and there were no font options.

The Mac was first seen at an Apple shareholders' meeting on 4 January 1984. A grainy video of this on YouTube is opened by John Sculley, already CEO. The starting price was $2495 which compares badly with current Macs: the iMac starts now at $1299 and does a lot more. That video is of the whole shareholders' meeting and has some boring parts as these meetings do, but we may note that for December 1983, total sales were 110,000 units and $160 million in sales. Plus ça change.

Jobs' part in the video begins around 37 minutes and he gave a typical showman-like presentation, but it was clear from the earlier sections of the video that Apple was beginning to hurt. Despite the comments about his friendship with Steve Jobs, Sculley sounds strained. A better Mac presentation was given by Jobs a few days later at the Boston Computer Society and this was made available in an aricle by Harry McCracken.

John Sculley

Jobs had hired Sculley because Apple had grown to a greater size than the former hacker (he and Woz created the blue box) could realistically manage and he needed a professional to run the company. Sculley had already turned Pepsi into one of the foremost brands in the USA (hard to imagine now that it was not always so) and on paper he looked right for the CEO position at Apple. In the Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs we are asked to imagine the West Coast Jobs being somewhat starry-eyed with the button-down Sculley.

Running a professional company needs organisation and Sculley needed to impose control from the top. A free-wheeling Jobs sticking fingers into pies that were the province of the CEO would not have gone down well and in the end Jobs was pushed out. He sold all his stock, apart from one share so that he would receive company information and fumed.

Sculley is occasionally interviewed when people want background on Jobs and the dismissal. He has appeared in the press on a number of occasions (e.g. Regrets From the Man Who Fired Steve Jobs) over the years rueing the decision to lose Jobs. He was recently taken to task by Jack Purcher on Patently Apple who suggested his most recent "confession" to the press, probably had more to do with his Inflexionpoint project in India.

The feeling at the time in many quarters was that Sculley was probably right, although Apple fans did not think so. Sculley is not being honest in trying to walk this back. The very act made Jobs stop and think. He may well have been reacting to the Apple experience and to the potential of the Macintosh, but his NeXT project, while a commercial failure, sowed the seeds for an Apple resurgence. It just needed a certain alignment of the stars.

The sections in the Isaacson biography on NeXT are revealing about Jobs and his necessity for control, particularly in the way the offices were set up. Whether it was a stroke of genius or just luck, choosing UNIX as a base for the NeXT operating system was one of the keys to what followed.

Michael Spindler

Over at Apple, Sculley did fairly well in his 10 years as CEO. The products were highly regarded and included the creation of the Newton - Sculley is credited with coining the term PDA or personal digital assistant - which was a good idea, but perhaps ahead of its time. Sculley the marketeer, was replaced by Spindler the European accountant, after an attempt by the Pepsi man to split the company; and because he did not want to licence Apple's OS. History shows he was right about that, although it still comes up as a "need" in some Wall Street analysts' articles.

Although Sculley was a marketing man and drove the company when the products were there, Michael Spindler, his replacement, was a figures-driven man. Instead of fixing the problems at their core, the price increases did as much as anything to bring Apple almost to ruin, and Spindler was looking for someone to take over what was at that time a dying company, but his failure here, as much as with engineering problems at Apple, saw him out of the door in less than a year.

Gil Amelio

The final CEO before the return of Steve Jobs has had a bad press. Amelio was recruited to run a company on its last legs and to sell it to the highest bidder if he could. While running it he picked up on the efforts of predecessors to find a new operating system. The move to newer processers showed weaknesses in the older OS 7 so it was a priority to find a proper replacement.

Several alternatives were examined, including Taligent, Copland (and its possible successor, Gershwin), but by the time Amelio arrived, Copland was out of control. It was cancelled and a desperate search began for something that would work on Macs. One of the candidates was BeOS. The CEO was Jean-Louis Gassée who had been an executive at Apple (Sculley made him head of Mac development) and was partly responsible for the ouster of Jobs. He was himself later forced out by Sculley. Gassée was often in favour of high prices at Apple, but may have asked too much for BeOS as Amelio turned him down.

Instead Apple bought NeXT and in the package was Steve Jobs, officially as an adviser. It was clear however, that Amelio no longer really had his heart in Apple and Steve Jobs persuaded the Board to push him out only a few months later. Jobs was now Interim CEO; but no one was really convinced about the "interim" part of the title.

Steve Jobs II

On his return, Jobs had a number of priorities. He cleaned up the product line considerably, including the ending of the Newton, which some read as an act of revenge. He also used his friendship with Bill Gates to secure a cash injection of $100 million. Many were annoyed at this, but Apple needed that to survive. It was also in the interests of Microsoft to make sure that Office continued to be available on all personal computers.

iMac Some of the design changes were radical and Jony Ives' concepts became the new standards for the industry. He had been hidden away in the design department until Steve Jobs wandered in one day and was shown a couple of ideas. When the first iMac appeared in 1998 it was unlike anything consumers had seen before (outside of futuristic TV programs) and it caught on in a big way.

Macs with the PowerPC processor had a later version of the MacOS installed, and within a short while (2002) also had the ability to switch operating systems from the old OS to an early version of OS X.

My first iMac, bought in 2003, had OS 9 and OS X 10.1, Puma, installed. I was quite shocked when I restarted for the first time into OS X. Having been used to the Classic OS, this was like nothing I had seen before. My first reaction was to switch straight back to OS 9 and carry on working. However, I realised that Apple had not created this as a joke: they were not going back. I tried again and within a couple of days everything made sense: far more sense than the Classic OS I realised.

It was not long after this that I began to write on OS X and other Apple products for the Bangkok Post. I had earlier written on PC- and IT-related subjects, but there had not been a writer on Mac for a couple of years. As a result, I was forced to familiarize myself with more than just the computer in front of me. At that time, there were not so many doing that: now self-elected experts on Apple are crawling out of the woodwork.

OS X and the iPhone

Tiger Another major step with OS X was the switch that Apple made for all of its computers to run on Intel processors rather than the RISC chips that it had been using first, then the PowerPC processors. It was made fairly easy for the computer, because Apple had ported OS X to Intel chips years before in its research department, so had the move well-planned before it was announced to a surprised public.

The first Mac Intel computers ran on 10.4, Tiger. The release of 10.5, Leopard (in late 2007) was optimised for the Intel processors. Subsequently, support for the PowerPC series was ended with the release of 10.7 (Lion).

It was during the life of Tiger that the iPhone was announced in January 2007 and one of the many features that were included (to great applause) was the point that the iPhone would run a version of OS X. At the same Keynote speech, and just before the iPhone, the Apple TV was highlighted and in March 2007 that too was released with another variation of OS X.

Of course, the iPhone OS X (or that on the Apple TV) was not anything like the Mac OS X and the forking has continued as the systems have developed, with the iPhone version later being differentiated with the name iOS. The Apple TV version tends to stick closely to the same upgrade cycle as iOS.

It is clear that iOS would not exist without OS X having been developed first, and OS X would not be on Macs if NeXT had not existed. We could of course extend this all the way back to Bell Labs engineers who created the earliest versions of UNIX (Gertner, John. The Idea Factory).

The iPhone was one of Apple's best successes, despite industry nay-sayers (some of whom now eat humble pie - not all). Over 43 million were sold in the last quarter (Q2 2014) alone. It was followed in 2010 by the iPad which was a form factor that had been tried by many other developers, all without much success. There may have been two or three differences with the iPad: the success of the iPhone; iOS and its app ecosystem; and Apple chutzpah.

iPhone presentation While many in the industry dismissed the iPhone when it was announced, most famously Microsoft's Steve Ballmer with "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance" (Joel Hruska, Ars Technica, et al).

It is noteworthy that Hruska also wrote, "If it lives up to the hype, the iPhone will have an impact on the industry, spawning many "me-too" products, and giving Apple's profits a nice boost. Beyond that? The iPhone is going to have difficulty gaining significant market share at a $500 price point" [My italics]. Hruska was not alone. Nokia and Blackberry were part of that market that Apple now shares.

The customers saw it differently. Not only does the iPhone continue to sell many millions of units, it is immensely profitable as well. The iPad followed this and by the time it appeared not only was the iPhone a major player, the App store had appeared and most users were familiar with the way that these other software additions to the device would add to usability. The iPad had the appearance of a reader, the iOS of the iPhone, the proven apps and was part of the Apple ecosystem.

The iPad and Recent Success

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad, he and the other presenters took the unusual step of demonstrating the device while seated on a Le Corbusier leather chair. It was not so much the chair itself as being seated that set the scene for how this device was to be used, although subsequently, as with the iPhone, the app developers and the users have made more out of the device than Apple may have envisioned.

iPad One of the criticisms - similar to the way the iPhone was portrayed by those who did not approve - was that the iPad was not for production of content. This is a fallacy and many now prefer the device over a desktop computer. The logic was that it was a viewing-only device and would not succeed. Sales figures since 2010, despite a recent drop, suggest that the consumers are happy with this as well.

It is also worth noting that following the introduction in some countries of Microsoft's Office for the iPad, the device was deemed worthy as something which now would be able to produce content, although previously Redmond had been at pains to point out that the only way to be productive was to use a keyboard; and to use a keyboard on its heavyweight Surface slab. There is a useful quote from Steven Sinofsky at the announcement of the Microsoft Surface: "Oops."

While there was some growth with the reworked Macintosh computers - especially when the flatscreen iMacs, white polycarbonate MacBooks and aluminium MacBook Pro computers appeared - the major expansion of Apple as a leading industrial corporation did come about following the release of the iPhone and iPad. Their enthusiastic reception, not only in traditional markets of US and Europe, but in newer ones too, such as Asia, where China and South-east Asia are seen as having the largest potential.

The iPhone success is due in major part to the use of a variation of OS X as its operating system, and that would not have been available unless Gil Amelio had been backed into a corner and purchased NeXt, its operating system, and of course its CEO.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to

information Tag information Tag

Back to eXtensions
Back to Home Page