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Apple in the Post-Jobs Post-Modern World

Hubris...attitude...and determination

While Steve Jobs deserves full credit for incredible achievements not only at NEXT and Pixar, I believe what enabled him to succeed at Apple was his application of the "Apple Brand" to the iPod. Apple Computer always had a cult-like group of followers who were willing to pay a remarkable premium for Apple's Macintosh line of PCs. Moreover, such people (and I was one of them) would not hesitate to vehemently evangelize the Apple vision and brand to any poor soul foolish enough to approach or befriend. For example, when I moved to New York City in or around 1993, I told a friend that I would simply not work for any company that had not chosen Apple as their computer platform. As a result I worked for firms like Ernst & Young (at the time Apple's financial auditor).

Yet several years later I found the burden of wearing the Apple "hair-shirt" too great and decided to defect to the world of PCs and UNIX and all things outside the narrow little world of Apple. Yet the point I'm trying to illustrate is that Apple always had the ability to capture people's imagination and spirit and that this has been a characteristic of Apple that endured well beyond Steve Jobs's departure. What I believe is the event that unleashed the Apple "idea-virus" (to appropriate Seth Godin's most excellent phrase) is the iPod. Before the iPod a person needed to have a very very high level of faith and independence in order to join the Apple cult. To buy a Mac in 1987 I think the cost was in the neighborhood of three thousand dollars. The number of people at that time who were interested in computers was very small. And within that small group, the number of people who were rich enough to buy a Mac was even smaller. And among that group of the rich, only a subset subscribed to the Macintosh Way (Guy Kawasaki's title for his book on the Apple brand and marketing strategy).

The problems Apple faced early on never involved the brand itself, the loyalty of the followers, nor did the fervor or loyalty dissipate quickly after Jobs's departure. Rather, the issue was that when selling products to consumers, the "network effect" remains powerful and manifests itself even more acutely in consumer products than it does in business to business products. The real genius of Steve Jobs was to translate what was essentially a misguided approach to market expensive business machines to an approach to selling consumer devices such as the iPod and the iPhone. In other words, the entire winning strategy had been in place from the beginning, it was simply that the number of followers and the pool of people who could potentially be converted was too small.

One could argue that Steve Jobs was ahead of his time, and yet this misses the point. The vision that endures beyond Steve Jobs is that of how to design user experiences. When Jobs applied that vision to a market for business machines, he failed in every case (Apple, NeXT). Yet when Jobs applied his vision to a true consumer market (iPod, iPhone) his vision resonated and brought into sharp relief the difference between the status quo and Apple. Once infected with Steve's vision, his iPod users and iPhone users could no longer defile themselves with "unbeliever" desktop, laptop, or tablet computers. In my opinion, once realized and unleashed in the consumer space, wild horses cannot return the masses to a world where Apple does not thrive and grow.

More Stories By Brian McCallion

Brian McCallion, founder of New York City-based consultancy Bronze Drum focuses on the unique challenges of Public Cloud adoption in the Fortune 500. Forged along the fault line of Corporate IT and line of business meet, Brian successfully delivers successful enterprise public cloud solutions that matter to the business. In 2011, while the Cloud was just a gleam in the eye of most Fortune 500 firms Brian designed and proved the often referenced hybrid cloud architecture that enabled McGraw-Hill Education to scale the web and application layer of its $160M revenue, 2M user higher education platform in Amazon Web Services. Brian recently designed and delivered the JD Power and Associates strategic customer facing Next Generation Content Platform, an Alfresco Content Management solution supported by a substantial data warehouse and data mart running in AWS and a batch job that processes over 500M records daily in RDS Oracle.”