What a difference a decade makes. Apple, America’s favorite high tech underdog with an attitude, survived a near death experience in the 1990s.
The 21st century started with a bet-the-farm Mac OS X. Then iTunes and the iPod. Then the iTunes Store. Suddenly, Apple was no longer a niche player and dominated portable media players and online music sales.
But within a few short years, Apple’s hot selling iPhone and wildly successful App Store have propelled Apple from darling to villain.
Apple’s Villains Of The Past
Apple was an upstart, somewhat brash and arrogant computer company back in the early 1980s when the Mac was introduced in Ridley Scott’s now famous TV commercial.
The Mac was represented by the heroine with a hammer in the ad.
The imagery depicted Apple’s Mac as a means of saving humanity from conformity, possibly represented by the Big Brother of technology, IBM, then dominating the PC industry.
Little did Apple know at the time that their next and biggest enemy would be Microsoft. If IBM was considered a valid villain of the last few decades of the 1990s, what of Microsoft, whose Windows operating system vanquished mighty IBM from the PC OS business, and nearly crippled Apple?
Microsoft’s antitrust shenanigans gave Apple a window to survive, and that opened windows of prosperity. Today, one decade into the 21st century, Microsoft, like IBM a generation ago, is a stagnant hulk of a company, dangerous more in reputation and history than in reality.
Apple As The Villain Today
Apple’s market worth rivals that of Microsoft and exceeds that of IBM. The Mac maker sits on a huge wad of cash, and seems to have created a gadget success machine—launching product after product to rave reviews, rapid customer acceptance, and greater profits.
Interestingly, Apple’s popular iPhone and App Store have begun to cast the company in an unfamiliar and negative light. To many technology pundits and software developers, Apple has become the villain, intent on creating and controlling a veritable walled garden where only Apple’s rules apply.
IBM was guilty of similar excesses decades ago. Microsoft abused their illegal monopoly to amass tens of billions in profit. Both companies were hated by customers and competitors. Therein is the difference.
How could Apple go from darling underdog to media villain in such a short time? Simply put, Apple co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, is a strong-willed control freak with impeccable taste. Under his guidance, Apple designed products—Mac to iPod to iPhone to Apps—put competitors to shame and envy, and cause customers to line up like the lemmings in Ridley Scott’s 1984 Mac commercial.
Apple, under Jobs, wants to control the entire customer experience—from delicious web site visuals, to stunning and creative commercials, to products that, unlike IBM and Microsoft of the past, customers actually want to use. That control ethic extends even to the way the products are sold—both the gadgets themselves, and third party software; the apps on the iPhone, iPod touch, and now the iPad.
Not only does Apple want to control the store for apps that run on their products, they want to control those app developers who make software for the App Store. App developers are required to use only tools that are approved by Apple. That desire to control all aspects of Apple’s product line has raised Apple from underdog darling to hated villain—among their increasingly less endowed competitors, and especially among a few, vocal app developers.
Apple is in the unusual and uncomfortable position of being called the villain.
Apple Is Not The Villain Of The Past
If IBM and Microsoft were notorious villains through their storied histories, then Apple is a new kind of villain, so perhaps the same rules to govern such hatred won’t apply. IBM and Microsoft became hated by competitors and vendors, and, eventually their customers.
Hatred for Apple of the 21st century seems to fall into two disparate groups.
Technology competitors who envy Apple’s position, innovation, margins, and now fear the company. And technology pundits who need to find controversy on any and every corner to sell their wares—entertainment disguised as information or analysis.
The stock market values and rewards companies with growth and new markets. Apple has both. The IBM of the 20th century stagnated, suffered, and though re-built, has never achieved the level of past success. Microsoft has milked the cash cows of Windows and Office but failed in every other endeavor, resulting in a stagnant stock price for many years.
Apple of 2010—unlike IBM of the 1980s and Microsoft of the 1990s—is loved by customers who can’t wait for the next great thing, and are willing to stand in line to get one before anyone else. What other technology gadget maker garners that kind of attention?
What of Apple’s developers? Those who complain about the walled garden of tools, the single delivery mechanism, and the many app store quirks? Some high profile developers have defected to Android and elsewhere, but with 200,000 apps in the App Store, it’s not just customers who like Apple’s methodology. Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference had record attendance and sold out in a month last year. This year WWDC sold out in eight days. Unquestionably, most app developers love developer for Apple’s products.
Apple has a few high profile and predictable detractors. Yet, unlike IBM and Microsoft, the villains of 20th century technology that everyone loved to hate, Apple as villain of 2010 has a rapidly growing customer base, a rapidly growing developer base, and plenty of both who seem to like the world according to Steve Jobs.
Apple may be a villain to some developers. Technology media pundits thrive on creating villains and controversy. On the other hand, gadget customers vote with their purchases. App developers vote with their apps and they follow the money trail. For now, Apple is leading the way to prosperity for everyone involved in the trail—except the competition.