It's Time to Polish Apple's Image,Marketing Computers, October, 1995.
The popular press is awash with eulogies for Apple Computer. These eulogies come up all the time: with the IBM PC in 1981; the mutant Lisa in 1983; the arrival of Windows 3.0 in 1990; the Newton fiasco in 1992; Windows 95 in, well, 1995. The weird thing about these eulogies is that they often have more to do with the mood of the writer at the keyboard than the facts. Since most writers use Macintoshes, it is no surprise that they are especially depressed about the ever increasing marginalization of Apple.
I share in that frustration as well, since it means fewer and fewer software products come out for my cranky Mac IIcx (how it sags these days). But sentimentality aside, the facts are that Apple never, ever had a chance to be the "industry standard" for personal computers. Not in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 or 1995. Not ever. So if there is zero chance of ever dominating the entire industry with your standard, what do you do? This is the question Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and later John Sculley all faced all day, every day. And you know what? They played the game beautifully, nearly every step of the way.
A little bit of theory
Making computers is a really weird business. It's weird because the whole industry sits on top of a giant wobbling bowl of jello. The jello is the uncertainty created by the relentless advance in microprocessor technology. Every 18 months the core thing that makes a computer a computer halves in price and doubles in speed. That's a lot of instability because it means your computer is constantly facing supposed obsolescence. From our point of view, as people buying these things, the microprocessor march is both exciting and disturbing. Exciting because we get to do new things with our ever more powerful computers--like play Doom in the office. Disturbing because whatever sits on our desks, and costs a bundle, is never right. It's never really good enough. It's never state-of-the-art. It's always somehow slightly deficient. We surreptitiously paw through the computer ads in the paper, getting frissons of megahertz envy, fantasizing about having a machine "expandable to 768MB of RAM" (the PowerMac 9500/132, $5,200).
Thanks to the microprocessor, things get so much more powerful so quickly that there is a real fear of not being "backwards compatible," meaning the files from 1982 should still somehow run in the word-processor from 1982, even if it is 1995. This kind of uncertainty scares people with really big pockets, people who have thousands of employees and can spend thousands on one order. From day one, those people were just not going to spend money on a company called Apple, best known for a machine built in a garage by two hackers, a machine that kids loved because of the video games. We seem to forget those days. A little bit of history In 1981, IBM launched its first personal computer, the aptly named Personal Computer. Back then there was only one kind of personal computer--the video game machine. You had three choices: Atari, Apple and Commodore. Weirdos who liked monochrome bought TRS-80s (aka the "trash eighty") from Radio Shack with an audio-cassette tape drive. In this kind of universe, you're Apple and you're thinking "How are we going to convince companies that a personal computer belongs in their offices?" The answer is, you're not. No way. Not Apple. Not Atari. Not anyone but IBM is ever going to convince corporate America to buy this thing called a PC. So App