An interesting piece by Philip Elmer-DeWitt shows that Apple can refocus when necessary, and do so with some pretty amazing results. It's a great look at how Apple operates, especially in light of the rumors that the company is looking to buy Beats.
In 1999 Steve Jobs went on stage and showed off iMovie, declaring how FireWire was The Way, and explaining how amazing all the movie creation tools are and what a standard issue Mac user could do with all that video they have accumulated. Then just 14 months later, Steve Jobs walked out at Macworld 2001 and unveiled The Digital Hub which included iTunes as one of the main pieces.
In that time, Apple realized that things like Audion (which I miss to this day), Soundjam, and Napster indicated that listening to music was the new killer app, not editing videos. So Apple hired SoundJam's developers (instead of Audion’s developers) to create iTunes, and then the company whipped up the iPod in record time.
What fascinated me about this whole tale is that Apple managed this sort of turnaround in just a smidge over a year. Even then without a retail division, Apple was many things, "small" not amongst them. Going from Zero to Onstage At Macworld in basically a year is pretty impressive. At the time, I just presumed it was the next piece of the "digital hub" strategy; they showed off video first, then moved on to audio.
I think Ben Thompson summed it up best in the Exponent podcast: "Companies…recognize markets and take advantage of them. It's a subtle distinction, and something I think that [Steve] Jobs always understood.”
This is the part that gets lost in a lot of punditry, Apple isn’t usually first to get into a market. Apple is just the first to understand that market and its customers. There is a difference, and it’s a really important one. It's the difference that makes Apple what it is, and why it has such appeal.