• Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

When Apple was run by John Sculley, from 1985 through '93, it lived to be noticed: dramatic commercials, dramatic products. But Sculley decided to become a maker of cheaper computers for everyone as well as a high-performance manufacturer. Apple had to change its cost structure drastically to accomplish that goal, severely undercutting profits. And the idea didn't work.

Under Michael Spindler, the current chief executive, Apple has tried to reinvent itself as a profitable company--but that goal has its perilous side. Most recently, Spindler decided that Apple must license its software to other companies to enable them to make those cheap computers. But the company's market share is so small that it risks undercutting itself further.

Every time the company has shifted its focus and its strategy it has lost ground, and also some of its identity. Now it is very difficult to identify what Apple Computer really stands for. Once, the company personalized the computer age. The Apple value system and design philosophy that led to Macintosh computers placed a greater emphasis on the needs of individuals rather than institutions--what Apple designers once called the user experience. Indeed, Apple's continuing problem of how to find a strategy for success and prosperity is a reflection of the conflict between the company's original maverick attitude and its current need to be successful in the corporate market. Apple has to stand for something.

The company turns 20 next year--if it survives. The greatest legacy of all those years is not its machines but the community of 15 million people around the world who have bought its products and continue to use them. The company's stewardsw--hoever they turn out to be--will be challenged to remember that their destiny is still to offer that community the difference that made them swear by Apple in the first place. Steve Jobs was once asked, early on in Apple's life, what would happen if the company failed to make its latest product successful. He replied, "I guess we'll be just another billion-dollar computer company." Now Apple might be just another $11 billion computer company.

Stewart Alsop is editorial director of InfoWorld, a weekly for computer professionals published in San Mateo, California.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page