21 September 2006

When Apple Began to Defy Gravity

New York Times technology columnist (and prolific author of Apple- and Mac-related books) David Pogue takes a certain amount of glee in recapping a few of the wrongheaded predictions about the fate of Apple made ten years (or more) ago when, as he puts it, Apple hit bottom. A few of the highlights:
  • Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft’s chief technology officer, 6/97: “The NeXT purchase is too little too late. Apple is already dead.”
  • Wired, “101 Ways to Save Apple,” 6/97: “1. Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game.”
. . . .
  • The Economist, 2/23/95: “Apple could hang on for years, gamely trying to slow the decline, but few expect it to make such a mistake. Instead it seems to have two options. The first is to break itself up, selling the hardware side. The second is to sell the company outright.”
  • The Financial Times, 7/11/97: “Apple no longer plays a leading role in the $200 billion personal computer industry. ‘The idea that they’re going to go back to the past to hit a big home run…is delusional,’ says Dave Winer, a software developer.”
Screenwriter William Goldman famously remarked that in Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." It seems that that observation could be made as easily in the offices of the leading business publications or most prominent technology companies. As Pogue sums things up:
In the end, this story really isn’t about Apple–or any one company; they all have ups and downs. This story is about the journalists and commentators. It’s one thing to report what’s happening to a flailing company, and quite another to announce what’s *going* to happen. In the technology business, that’s a fool’s game.

I came late to the Apple party, having only recently switched to the Mac and bought an iPod. On both counts, I'm glad I did. Notwithstanding, what should I make the fact that a resurgent Apple is there for me to discover so long after rumors of the company's death were greatly exaggerated? To me, this tends to indicate that a number of other companies failed to take full advantage of Apple's years in the wilderness. If in those intervening years others had built products as useful and elegant as Apple's are today, Apple would almost certainly have been put out of its misery and I wouldn't have missed them at all.

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