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June 28th, 1999

Editorial
Apple For Sale?, Part 2: I Don't Think So, Steve Jobs Isn't Done Yet!
by Bryan Chaffin
My very good friend Wes George, the Apple Trader, has explained that all the conventional rules say that Apple is being primed for the selling block. His arguments are powerful, logical, insightful, and in all ways excellent. In addition, he is not relying on rumors or hearsay; he is talking cold hard facts and looking at those facts from the viewpoint of Wall Street. This is a different lens than the one most Mac journalists look through. Being Mac nuts, most of are only capable of looking at things through a 6-colored lens, or maybe a platinum lens depending on when we took the Mac plunge.

As excellent as his arguments are (and if you are one of the few Mac users on the Internet who did NOT read his piece, do so), Wes has ignored the one thing that completely throws all rational, logical, and traditional rules out the Window. That factor is, of course, Steve Jobs.

For the sake of a proper discussion

Let me recap the bulk of the argument.

  • Mr. Jobs has now officially saved Apple, but Apple needs big backing from a deep-pocketed parent company in order to compete against the Wintel hegemony.
  • Apple has lots of cash, but that cash is dwarfed by the reserves of the PC Big Boys (including Microsoft, whose annual profits alone exceed Apple’s gross income).
  • Mr. Jobs is not a good "manager," and Apple gets a little closer to the time when they will need a manager instead of a visionary every day.
  • While saving the company, Mr. Jobs gutted one of the world's most renowned R&D departments, and cut all sorts of fat that could be considered necessary for long term growth.
  • Apple has maintained high margins at the expense of market share when market share is what it needs more than anything to keep from being a bit-player.
  • Perhaps the biggest argument - Apple simply does not have the production capacity to maintain its current market share, let alone grow it. Even worse, Apple appears to be doing nothing to correct this.

Surely this is the behavior of an iCEO that is preparing his company for sale? Add up all of these factors, look at these actions strictly from a Wall Street perspective, and it does indeed look like Apple is being primed for a takeover.

Not so fast! While these arguments are very logical and build upon traditional models, they don't take into account the very essence of Mr. Jobs. Apple4Sale rumors make the most sense if one thinks that Mr. Jobs has finished the job he set out to do. More specifically: These arguments make the most sense if Mr. Jobs thinks he has finished the job he set out to do.

This is important.

Mr. Jobs may not be finished. He may not have seen his vision through to its completion.

What is that vision?

Steve Jobs has always been about making Insanely Great products. He has always wanted to make computers that help us be more creative. That is what has driven him, at least in the computing world. Money seems to have never been his goal. He wanted to change the world, and he has certainly done so, but has he finished?

Back that up!

Think about his sales pitch to John Sculley. Mr. Jobs convinced Mr. Sculley, then the President and CEO of Pepsi Cola, by asking him one simple, arrogant question: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?" (another version of that story has Mr. Jobs saying: "If you stay at Pepsi, five years from now all you'll have accomplished is selling a lot more sugar water to kids. If you come to Apple you can change the world.")

Think about the sales campaign he worked on with Chiat/Day that told people to "Think Different." That campaign, while admittedly merely an advertising ploy, still symbolizes Mr. Jobs' approach to computing. "Think in a way that is different from those around you, change the world." That is certainly a central part of Mr. Jobs' approach to life.

Think about his drive to make the Apple III quiet, despite engineering difficulties. That computer tended to overheat because Mr. Jobs insisted that it not have a fan since fans were too noisy. (This directive had the eventual result of Apple officially telling its customers to lift the edge of the Apple III and let it drop to the desk to reseat components that may have worked themselves out during repeated heating and cooling processes. All stemming from his drive to make computers that helped people be more creative.)

Think about his campaign to eradicate the same floppy disks he helped bring to the market because they were inefficient. This campaign started with the NeXT Cube and succeeded with the iMac.

Think about his decision to end Apple’s reliance on their proprietary ADB technology in favor of the superior, but not yet accepted, USB technology.

I could go on, but think about everything you have ever read or heard about Mr. Jobs and his drive to make computers work for people instead of the other way around. Has he reached that goal yet?

Insanely Great?

Apple has some great products right now. The iMac is great, the Blue & White is great, the current line of PowerBooks is probably great (the jury still seems to be out on that issue), and the iBook looks like it will be great. Some will even argue that these products are Insanely Great.

They aren’t.

They’re just better than everything else on the planet. Mac users, including yours truly, wallow in smug, self-righteous satisfaction. We revel in the fact that we have the best computers available in all of Computingdom, we tend to blind ourselves to the fact that today’s computers are mired in the same paradigms set back when 256K of RAM was cool and Adam Ant ruled the airwaves. I am not trying to criticize Apple’s product line. Like I said, their products are great and I love them, but they are all variations of the same computing paradigm we have enjoyed for the last 15 years thanks to Apple and the introduction of the original Macintosh.

Today’s computers are still primitive

What separates the iMac from that original Macintosh? 15 years of technology and some of the finest industrial design to ever hit the computing industry. That’s really about it. It is still a desktop computer with a monitor (built in), a keyboard, a desktop, icons, a mouse… Same old stuff, but it looks better and works way faster. What’s "Insanely Great" about that?

Insanely Great is being able to pull up your desktop, or some other work environment paradigm, from a sub-notebook, a palmtop, or maybe even a wristwatch. Insanely Great is being able to do that from anywhere in the world and have it be just as fast as working at your desk in your home or office. Insanely Great is having 3D screens that are projected from a tiny projector you carry with you and/or one that is manipulated by voice and direct touch. Insanely Great is wearable devices that act as your phone, secretary, and PDA. Insanely Great is when we no longer think about the computer we are working with and instead think about being creative.

That is Insanely Great.

I think that Mr. Jobs’ vision extends into a future that most of us have never dared dream. I think that is his muse.

Let me be up-front about the fact that I have no inside information to which I am alluding. It is much more of a nagging thought that has been building within me for several years of reading about Mr. Jobs, Apple, NeXT, and even Pixar.

Where else?

I don’t actually know the inner passions of Mr. Jobs. I certainly am not claiming to understand what he thinks of the future, but I know he has some sort of vision. What better place is there for Mr. Jobs to see that vision through to its completion other than Apple Computer?

Nowhere.

There is no better place. Mr. Jobs has already started one new computer company; I can’t imagine he has a hankering to do so again. Wes George pointed out that Mr. Jobs is in his mid-40’s and by extension, that he has maybe one more opportunity to do the next Insanely Great thing. I agree with that, but I think Apple is the best place for him to do it. If that is the case, why would he try to sell the company?

I could be wrong. I have no direct evidence to the contrary. I could be giving too much credit to Mr. Jobs' long-range thinking. Maybe he is done after all. Maybe he has seen his vision through to its completion. Maybe his only driving passion in the insane amount of effort he put into saving Apple was to make sure that his child, his progeny, did not die the ignoble death towards which it was surely headed. Maybe his real, and only, passion is to make movies that will be watched 60 years from now. If that is the case, prepare for Apple to be sold, but I think that Mr. Jobs is still far from finished at Apple.

Comments and hate-mail can be sent to backpage@macobserver.com.


Bryan Chaffin began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs when he needed to make his own advertising materials and the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker. He spent lots of time at Kinko's until he was finally able to buy his own Mac in 1995. It was a Power Computing Power 100.

Bryan began working for Dan Hughes, the man behind The Cyberdogpound, when he was advertising for people to help with a new Mac web site. That project was called Webintosh. In August of 1998, Dan Hughes decided it was time to do other things and Bryan took over Webintosh. In December of 1998, he brought Dave Hamilton on as a business partner and the two changed the name of the site to The Mac Observer. Bryan is the Editor-in-Chief of The Mac Observer and has never looked back since.



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