Reflections on 25 Years, Does Apple Still Matter?

by Hadley Stern Jan 30, 2009

When I started this website over 6 years ago Apple was coming out of a dark period. This was pre-iPod Apple, struggling to reassert itself as a relevant computer manufacturer.

A few short years later, spurred on by the success of the iPod, Apple Computer changed their name to Apple corp. Now we have an Apple that is a big player in the mobile space.

Apple is older than the Macintosh but the computer for the rest of us has been defined by the Macintosh. A renegade project taken over by Steve Jobs, it led to the first commercial available instance of a GUI operating system for everyone. The first people to fall in love with the Mac fell in love with its ease-of-use and saw it not as a sign of a toy, but as something incredibly powerful. The Macintosh was the first computing platform to enable desktop publishing, changing the graphic design industry forever.

Perhaps the biggest change spurred by the Macintosh was taken over and completed by Microsoft. After Apple walked away from working with Microsoft, Microsoft took matters into its own hands and released Windows. This led to a rivalry that was fierce, and for a small minority (and Apple's ad campaign) still continues.

But the truth is that if you are using Windows today you are ostensibly using an operating system invented by Xerox, perfected and brought to market by Apple, and ultimately solidified by Microsoft.

This fact leaves many of who remember the dark days of Apple with some bitterness. We define these dark days with Microsoft as the big bad boy. But the truth, as always, is more murky than just a black and white Microsoft is good, Apple is bad. Apple's hubris and arrogance, which made it capable of producing a magnificent product like the Macintosh also led it to ignore the market realities that made keeping it a closed system silly.

Which leads us to today. What is the Macintosh's relevance 25 years later? If you look at it from Apple's perspective it is important, but not as important as it once was. The iPod and iTunes has provided much-needed diversification to the Apple product and bottom line and the invention of the iPhone (really a product intersection of the iPhone and Macintosh) is showing the path to a future that isn't Mac-centric.

So does Apple still matter? It does, but the Macintosh does not matter as much anymore which is probably why Apple pulled out of Macworld. After all many folks complained that Macworld was becoming too iPod, and then iPhone centric. But those folks are missing the broader point--while the Macintosh is still important to Apple it is no longer the largest source of revenue.

The question for Apple, which has always aspired to not just make product, but make products that change the world, is what to work on next. In order to stay relevant Apple needs to think post the GUI interface. That battle is over, and even though Leopard is better than Vista (nee Windows 7) the differences are evolutionary not revolutionary.

When Steve Jobs witnessed the beginning of the Macintosh project he saw something that was a game-changing paradigm shift in the way people would use computers. Snow Leopard, or the latest iPod update does not meet that criteria. The iPhone may, but the broader challenge for Apple, if it wants to continue to Matter, is to take on the bigger challenges. The ones that have made us who have been tracking the company for a long time excited.

Apple, make Apple matter.


  • You could really do with reading through what you’ve written before you post it. I understand that you can’t possibly pick all the mistakes under the pressures, and I in no way expect edited articles as in a newspaper, but, it could be better.

    And to answer your article, I think that Apple is still relevant and is still caring about what they make, and trying to push forward in the product lines they pursue. I think your ending is slightly unfair; you can’t possibly presume that Apple will pull a game-changing product out of the bag at every single event they ever hold. You just have to accept that for Apple to continue to create fantastic products means that they’ll probably be few and far between, with many more refinements in between.

    01jamcon had this to say on Jan 30, 2009 Posts: 5
  • I think the Mac matters less, but Apple is probably more relevant than ever.

    I think that the Mac is now regarded mostly as just another computer, albeit an expensive one.  We can use one or the other or both without it being about your cult vs my cult.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 30, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • another clueless “tech blogger” pumping up his ego with an error-riddled story that offers nothing new, nothing insightful, and very little in the way of accuracy.

    why bother? you’re not advancing the conversation.

    h4ck had this to say on Jan 30, 2009 Posts: 1
  • Apple failed to gain the enterprise market in the late 1980s because of what Steve Jobs represented and not anything that Microsoft did. Corporate America was still too close to hating the anti-war, flower power generation that Steve Jobs embodied regardless of his individual beliefs.

    Apple had the better idea, but the board rooms of America were going to stick with a conservative, tried and true platform, from their perspective, called IBM. Fortunately for Microsoft, IBM did not want to write a disk operating system for the first PC, so they bought one from a new company in Redmond Washington. MS DOS was not any different from any other command line operating system of the day except it would cone installed on the new IBM PC. The board of directors at Apple hired John Sculley, from Pepsico, to try to get into the corporate board rooms. They were not going to change from IBM until the PC clones arrived in the mid 90s bringing with them lower costs. In business money talks and everything else walks.

    Corporate America has always been slow to adopt anything new and innovative even when it’s championed by one of their own. A GUI interface seemed to the corporate decision makers of 1985 like a toy instead of recognizing it as a productivity tool for their employees. The auto industry is a good example. Domestic car companies are only now jumping on the hybrid technology that Toyota and Honda have been using for several years. It took $4 a gallon gasoline to get them moving.

    It’s true that Apple was slow to open up the system, and provide users with industry standard connectors on their computers, but it would have made little difference to the big corporations because they were not ready to change.

    It took Millions of iPod, iPhone and iTunes users on the PC side to try a Mac. The recent increase in market share of Macintosh computers is a direct result of the iPod and its progenitor the iPhone. This slow change is because of their great experiences buying and using their Apple portable devices.

    Bill Gates’ business practices have always been ruthless and sometimes high handed, but the dismal success of Vista and the Zune are a result of corporate arrogance and stupidity in a rapidly changing computer and consumer electronics field.

    Flyboybob had this to say on Feb 01, 2009 Posts: 33
  • This really is a dumb question to ask considering Apple’s recent releases (iPhone, Leopard, etc.).

    Howie had this to say on Feb 02, 2009 Posts: 2
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