What's With The Microscope On Apple?
August 27th, 2003

Isn't it amazing how closely everyone seems to watch Apple? Being the center of attention has its benefits, but there is a distinct downside to having everything you do scrutinized like The Croc Hunter, Steve Irwin, might examine a rare species of cat.

"We're here in the wilds of Cupertino California to see if we can locate a rare and beautiful cat, the Turtle-necked Jobs! We don't know a lot about this feline because it's very reclusive. There are only two known habitats in the entire world; here and near Emeryville. The Jobs can be a dangerous cat and we must be extremely careful not to get caught in its Reality Distortion Field, but I think we're safe because the Jobs only puts out the field twice a year.

"Shhhh! I think I see one! Yes! Its a male; you can tell by the receding hairline. Isn't he a beauty! We'll just watch; like I said, the Turtle-necked Jobs are extremely reclusive and extremely territorial, we don't want to get him mad at us..."

As Apple pumps out hit after hit, it is only natural, I suppose, that everyone else in the industry gets interested in the minutia of the day-to-day goings on at 1 Infinite Loop. If the inventory of iMacs starts to slide, industry watchers report it. If iPod sales move in any direction, other makers of MP3 players hold their collective breaths to see if they should sigh in relief or in exasperation. Even an act as innocuous as finding office space is subject to intense media scrutiny. I can easily imagine some bubbly blonde anchor-bimbette smiling at us on the evening news while she relates stories about mass murders, earthquakes, Middle East unrest, President Bush's paper cut, and the hunt by Apple execs for office space in Austin, TX.

"...the White house spokesman said that President prefers Bactine over iodine because it doesn't sting. More on the Presidential Paper Cut later. Right now we take you live to Austin, Texas for this late breaking story.

"Thank you, Geena. I'm outside of one of Apple's three locations here in Austin where it was discovered earlier today that Apple is looking for more office space. While we could not confirm the reason for this monumental search, experts tell us that Apple is looking to consolidate its Austin locations into one single entity.

"As you can imagine, the city of Austin is in near panic over this news. Earlier today we saw people walking by the two locations, one woman was pushing a stroller that contained her young child. It was an amazing scene. We've tried to talk to someone, anyone in any of Apple's locations about this search, but, as is typical for Apple, no one wanted to speak to us on camera. One employee who would only speak under strict anonymity said, and I quote, that 'Apple just needed some more space.' What an amazing turn of events for the people of Austin and Mac lovers everywhere. This is Bill Redmond speaking to you live from outside of the Apple building in Austin. Back to you, Geena."

Apple is a great company and I want to see them do well, but I don't need to know every little thing that goes on behind their doors. It's one thing to try and glean as much info as possible to figure out what new digital doodads Apple is mixing up in its labs, it's quite another trying to ascertain meaning from every little thing that goes on in normal day-to-day business dealings.

I guess it goes with the territory; if you want to be in the spotlight you have to expect people to examine your zits. We look over Jobs' salary, his life style, and comment on his apparel at Macworld Keynotes. We find life at Apple enviable and many would sell their kids for a chance to be a janitor at Apple. All of this from a company with only 3% of the desktop computer market. Amazing.

Simply amazing!

What's even more amazing is that, if you compare the size of the companies, Microsoft should be far more hounded by the digarazzi and industry analysts than Apple. That's not to say that Big Redmond hasn't been as closely examined as a new prisoner during a body cavity search. It's just that when Microsoft is in the news it tends to be negative, while Apple-related news is more positive. At least lately it is. Again, that's a good thing, and I'm not complaining, because while I may find a report on the brand of toothpaste Steve J. uses mildly annoying, the same report that features Billy G. may cause projectile vomiting.

I liken the Apple/computer industry relationship to that of a circus elephant trainer...maybe a midget circus elephant trainer. If the elephant really wanted to, it could sit on the trainer then go have a bag of peanuts. The trainer would be no more than a dark wet spot on the otherwise dusty elephant's hide, but the elephant doesn't squash the trainer. Why? Because the trainer makes the elephant's life more interesting; the elephant learns to do tricks it never imagined it could do, and it's kind of fun letting the trainer believe he's in control. We are the folks who watch all of this from our seats in the stands. We admire how cool the trainer looks in his circus costume. We may even want to be like the trainer, but not everyone can be a trainer; it's a tough and dangerous position to be in. Stand in the wrong place at the wrong time and you could get smothered by processed peanuts.

Apple has thus far gotten the elephant to do all sorts of things. There are actually signs of innovation in what was essentially an idea-stagnant market. Apple has shown the computer industry elephant that if it pays attention, it will definitely learn something. I believe also that Apple understands that its position as a trainer is precarious at best; the best way to survive is to become indispensable to the elephant while learning to tame corporate IT lions on the side, and maybe picking up a few tricks from the music magician as well. By diversifying, Apple guarantees that, even if it catches a south-bound load from a north bound elephant, it will always have an act the audience wants, and it will always come out smelling like a rose.