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MARK RICHARDS FOR TIMEMACFACTORY: Apple is selling G4s faster than it can make them
In this his closest partner is Jonathan Ive, whose much lauded industrial-design team defined the new Apple by creating the smash-hit candy-colored iMac. "We work together as designers work together," says Ive. "We move from talking about overall goals and visions for a product to talking about how pieces of plastic are manufactured, how labels are designed."
Thus there has been a rebirth of that rare blend of hot tech and cool aesthetics that drew Ive from London to Apple's Cupertino headquarters in the first place. "The first time I used a Mac," he says, "it was so clear that somebody had paid attention to details that nobody else would have noticed. I remember thinking, 'That's remarkable. Why did they care so much?'"
It's Monday morning, and Jobs is onstage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, obsessing. Tomorrow the auditorium will overflow with thousands of Apple loyalists; right now he's rehearsing the killer moment where he says, "Say hello to the new iMacs," and the machines glide out from behind the dark curtain and across the stage. But the current lighting leaves their translucence insufficiently vivid on the gigantic onstage screen. So Jobs wants the lights brighter and turned on earlier in the roll-out. The producer, Steph Adams, speaks into his headset, telling the backstage guys to yeah, just try it again, with the edgy tone of a man whose job consists of placating a perfectionist. No good. Jobs jogs halfway up the aisle and slouches into a center seat, his legs slung over the seat backs of the next row. "Let's keep doing it till we get it right, O.K.?"
They go again. The iMacs are still underlighted. "No, no," Jobs whines, agonized. "This isn't working at all."
And again. Now the lights are bright enough, but they're still coming on too late. "I'm getting tired of asking about this," Jobs growls.
Again. And finally they get it right, the five impeccably lighted iMacs gleaming as they glide forward smoothly on the giant screen. "Oh! Right there! That's great!" Jobs yells, elated at the very notion of a universe capable of producing these insanely beautiful machines. "That's perfect!" he bellows, his voice booming across the empty auditorium. "Wooh!"
And you know what? He's right. The iMacs do look better when the lights come on earlier. Odwalla bottles are better with twist-off caps. The common man did want colorful computers that delivered plug-and-play access to the Internet.
Now Jobs thinks that same guy wants his iMac to play DVDs and edit digital videos. Jobs has a long history of divining the high-tech future, often recognizing it in technology other people invented: the mouse. The visual desktop. The laser printer. Rainbow-hued PCs. The wireless laptop. Now, years before most people have even heard of broadband Internet access, Jobs has bet the farm on the convergence of his two companies' products. Digital video, he proclaimed at the iMac launch last week, is "the next big thing."
He'd better hope so. Motorola's recent chip-shipping problems could cut Apple's third-quarter earnings 60% (from $203 million in profits to some $80 million), and have already triggered a plunge in Apple stock from 80 to the low 60s. But Jobs' keep-it-simple strategy--G3s and now G4s for pro users, iMacs and iBooks for the masses--has been so successful that some analysts see nothing but a buying opportunity. "This is not the old, incompetent, bungling Apple," says Warburg, Dillon Read's Wolf. "This is the new Apple. They have a great strategy, and they're making sensational products."
Will that be enough? Apple's 12% home-computer market share is a big improvement over 6%, but it still leaves the Mac on the margins--a minority desktop operating system at a time when desktop computers may be marginalized by the thousand portable "net appliances" looming on the horizon. If Jobs' crystal ball sees that far, he isn't telling. "He doesn't have a pocket Mac in the works, at least that I know of," says Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies Research International, a Silicon Valley consulting firm. "But he's too smart not to be thinking about it."
For now, though, the company is soaring, and you don't hear much about the search for a permanent Apple CEO. Quite the contrary: 20 years after his quest began, Jobs is still chasing his dream of giving soul to silicon. Both Apple and Pixar embody his vision of the computer as an empowering cultural force that can help heal a rift between art and technology that's as old as art and technology themselves. For his '60s-era peers, high tech meant the cold, gray establishment that they were revolting against. Jobs knew better. "Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist and a great scientist," he says. "Michelangelo knew how to cut stone at the quarry. Edwin Land at Polaroid once said, 'I want Polaroid to stand at the intersection of art and science,' and I've never forgotten that."