Steve Jobs helped launched Apple, drove it to success, got kicked out, built NeXT and Pixar, came back to Apple, and over the past 10 years the company launched iTunes, iPod, iPhone, Intel-based Macs, and the iPad, and collected $100-billion in cash.
Can you name Apple’s secret weapon in the 21st century in only two words?
It’s Not The Steve You Think
Most technology historians would credit Apple co-founder Steve Jobs with credit for rebuilding Apple from the near disaster era of the 1990s.
That’s an assessment that is difficult to argue against, but suffice it to say that Steve Jobs had plenty of help.
Not only from Apple’s experienced and capable executives. Jobs had help from another Steve.
Not enough credit for Apple’s continued success has gone to Bill Gates’ heir at Microsoft, CEO Steve Ballmer.
Say what, Kate?
This is not to diminish Apple’s accomplishments the past 10 years, or Steve Jobs contributions to the Apple we know and love, but some of Apple’s success came at the hands of the utterly incompetent Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.
While Apple was building a highly profitable product line and ecosystem comprised of Macs, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Steve Ballmer is credited with flat lining Microsoft’s stock price.
While the cash cow of Windows and Office that Bill Gates built continued to roll on, it was Ballmer who spent billions in profits in a vain attempt to compete with Google in search and online advertising.
Microsoft’s Zune media player was launched under Ballmer’s watch, a device became synonymous with product failure, and lost billions.
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game system has cost the company many billions which will never see a return on the dollar. Microsoft’s smart phone efforts were steamrolled by Apple’s iPhone and has yet to recover.
Through Ballmer’s reign Microsoft has lost tens of billions of dollars squandered on anemic products that were often too little too late, while the company’s financials remained respectable only because of Windows and Office.
Nearly five years after the iPhone’s launch, Microsoft’s smart phone efforts have proven weak, and Windows Phone has the tiniest market share since Windows came to a phone.
Nearly three years after the iPad’s launch, Microsoft’s first new tablet has critics howling, and the company refuses (as does Amazon and Google) to announce how many Surface tablets have been sold.
Ballmer’s tenure at Microsoft is littered with one product failure after another, mostly masked by ongoing revenue from the cash cow products. Windows Vista and Windows 7 were widely panned by critics, but successful as the captive OS for home and business users. Windows 8 is acclaimed as a disaster waiting to happen.
Apple’s rise to become the technology giant of the 21st century may not have been as successful if Ballmer had been put out to pasture shortly after Gates left Microsoft.
With the Bizaro World Steve running Microsoft, Apple had a relatively clear field to innovate and integrate products in a way Microsoft seldom understood.
That Ballmer is clearly deluded is evident by a recent Wall Street Journal interview, where he was asked about Apple’s model for controlling hardware and software.
We like our model, as we are evolving it. In every category Apple competes, it’s the low-volume player, except in tablets. In the PC market, obviously the advantage of diversity has mattered since 90-something percent of PCs that get sold are Windows PCs. We’ll see what winds up mattering in tablets.
Apple is not the low volume player in tablets, of course, having sold well over 100-million iPads in less than three years. Ballmer conveniently forgot that Apple’s iPhone demolished Microsoft’s smart phone efforts in units, revenue, and profit. And, Ballmer seems to ignore that Apple’s rejuvenated Mac is the most popular desktop and notebook line.
As obvious as it is that Microsoft’s board of directors should send Ballmer into retirement, may we hope that the BoD members are as deluded and ignorant as Ballmer himself.
The technology world needs Apple more than it needs Microsoft.