Rabbits From Mad Hatters: Steve Jobs & Apple, Then And Now
April 22nd, 2003

On April 20, 1995, Steve Jobs maybe gave his single best interview. The interview spans many topics including: Steve Jobs' early years; the state of education, television and entertainment; the flight of artistry in the software industry; the difference in taxi cab driving talent spanning a 2 to 1 differential (from best to worst) versus software talent spanning a 100 to 1 differential; Apple in general; Bob Dole killing a bill to put a free computer in every school in the country; admitting that Apple "had no concept of how to sell to corporate America;" NeXT Computer being the first computer company not to make it; NeXT Software being the first company to integrate all three major innovations from Xerox (i.e., graphical user interface, Ethernet, and object-oriented development tools); the Internet being impervious to corporate, i.e., Microsoft, control; Pixar; advice for entrepreneurs; his belief in not having a responsibility for his works, that "the work speaks for itself;" and why the San Francisco bay area has been the nexus for so much talent.

Slip-Sliding Away
From the interview came perhaps his most prophetic statement with regard to Apple Computer, Inc.:

"What [going for profit over market share cost Apple] was the future. What they should have been doing was making reasonable profits and going for market share, which was what we always tried to do. Macintosh would have had a thirty- three percent market share right now, maybe even higher, maybe it would have even been Microsoft but we'll never know. Now its got a single digit market share and falling. There's no way to ever get that moment in time back. The Macintosh will die in another few years and its [sic] really sad. The problem is this: no one at Apple has a clue as to how to create the next Macintosh because no one running any part of Apple was there when the Macintosh was made--or any other product at Apple. They've just been living off that one thing now for over a decade and the last attempt was the Newton and you know what happened to that. It's kind of tragic, but as unemotionally as I can be, that's what's happening."

Apple's global market share is anywhere from 2.4% down to 2.05% depending on who you get your numbers from. Should TMO decide to ring the death knell bell for this article, I want the record to be clear that the bell tolls for Steve Jobs and not myself.

That old interview is interesting on many levels, however, it gets me to thinking about what the heck does Apple have to do to stay viable? Steve Jobs himself believes that Apple needs to do something spectacular to stop the market share slide into oblivion.

Software Key to Market Share
Steve stated: "Unless somebody pulls a rabbit out of a hat, companies tend to have long glide slopes because of the installed bases. But Apple is just gliding down this slope and they're loosing market share every year. Things start to spiral down once you get under a certain threshold. And when developers no longer write applications for your computer, that's when it really starts to fall apart."

This makes a heck of a lot sense. In the late '70s when no one was really using PCs, seeding schools with Apple computers created an engine to increase market share as students moved from school into the corporate world. That is one of the reasons "guerilla" adoption of Macs into corporations worked (at least for desk top publishing). Now things work in reverse. Schools want to adopt a computing platform that will be used by students when they enter the corporate world. Furthermore, consumers want to buy computers like the ones at work. Today that means Windows PCs. Apple cannot depend on another wave of graduates forcing another "guerilla" wave of Mac adoption because they don't exist. If Apple doesn't target and penetrate the corporate market, there is a very real chance that the downward spiral Jobs talks about will continue for Apple.

Short of a Johnny-Apple-Seed-like donation of free Macintosh computers and/or special pricing to corporations (or non-profits) similar to past academic programs, Apple needs to find its rabbit-in-a-hat in the form of software. Jobs is two ears short of a rabbit right now. Speculation of the merits of Apple buying Universal aside, I think the real hat trick will be an office suite that is completely file format compatible with Microsoft Office. That's the first "ear."

To keep things from really falling apart, Apple had to take matters into their own hands with the Apple retail stores and now with software. Apple has an analogue for some Microsoft Office components to varying degrees: Keynote to PowerPoint; FileMaker to Access (although not format compatible); and Mail, iCal, and Address Book (although not Exchange Server compatible) to Outlook. There is even a Visio compatible application by way of OmniGraffle Pro (Note to Apple: buy OmniGraffle from Omni). Basically, Apple is short one word processor and one spreadsheet that can interchange with Word and Excel.

Windows Compatible
The second "ear" would be Microsoft Windows compatibility. No, I'm not high and I'm not talking about emulation akin to Virtual PC. That is not enough. Apple needs to provide something more simple and integrated. I'm talking about emulation akin to the Macintosh Classic compatibility layer in OS X. By buying Real PC and licensing and/or recreating a Lindows middle-ware layer, Apple could implement "red box" compatibility. Such a "red box" would enable Macintosh computers to run Windows software out of the box as if they were regular Macintosh programs. If Apple applies some Aqua skin to such middle-ware, the software could even look largely like Apple software.

By providing Windows compatibility and an office application suite, Apple could make real inroads into the corporate world and reverse its market share slide. As much as I love music, and despite all the sound and fury that would be injected into the soap-opera saga of Apple were it to acquire Universal, I cannot see it reversing its computer market share slide.

In short, even if Jobs had some grand plan to merge Apple, Pixar and Universal, it still wouldn't increase its share of the desktop market. It's the accessibility of software that matters; it's always been that way.