The Back Page - Apple Death Knell #46: Folly Will Be Apple's Demise

by - May 11th, 2005

Today, I bring you an interesting Apple Death Knell, #46 in the Apple Death Knell Counter. Writing for Australian newspaper The Age, Graeme Philipson wrote that Apple's actions against its fan base (subpoenaing and suing Web sites, suing students over trading Tiger beta developer releases), and the decision to pull all of publisher Wiley's books from its Apple Store retail outlets are merely the latest in a long string of foolish corporate moves that will inevitably spell its demise if Apple doesn't change its ways.

It's interesting because I actually agree with (most) of Mr. Philipson's criticisms of Apple -- Apple's decision to yank Wiley's books is the height of idiocy and proof for those still needing it that when Steve Jobs says "Think Different," what he really means is "Think the way I think, or you're a bozo." In addition, I also have issues with Apple's legal efforts involving PowerPage, AppleInsider, and ThinkSecret, but I'll be writing more about that later.

Mr. Philipson also points to the Apple III's failure because it was rushed to market, the ill-fated Mac Portable, and Apple's on-again, off-again efforts to gain traction in the corporate space: All folly.

Then there's Apple's failure to adequately address the IBM PC in the early 1980s: Folly.

Cancelling Star Trek, the project to move the Mac OS to Intel in the early 1990s: Most likely Folly, but we'll never really know.

Not merging with IBM after Michael Spindler freaked out and killed the deal in the early 1990s: Folly at the time from a business perspective, but the results since then have benefitted us Mac users. Still, I'll let his comments stand.

Not cloning the Mac OS back in the day in order to be a Microsoft-type business: Personally, I go back and forth on this one. I don't know that Apple could have pulled off the kind of business model that Microsoft has pulled off. It's not in the genes of those who work at Apple, and I think Bill Gates would have out-competed Apple if Apple had tried to compete on his ground. Today, I believe that Apple's only competitive edge is in not directly competing with the likes of Microsoft and Dell, and by controlling the hardware and software for its product line to insure the customer experience. As such, I won't agree with Mr. Philipson that this was Folly, but I think his argument has merit.

This issue with Wiley, however, is just stupid. It smacks of hubris, short-sightedness, arrogance, and the sort of censorship that I used to pretend Apple stood against. In case you missed it, Apple pulled all of Wiley's books from its Apple Stores because the publisher refused to yank an unauthorized biography of Steve Jobs called iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business (US$16.47 - Amazon). See our full coverage for more information, but my point is that Apple's action here is STUPID!

By pulling Wiley's books, Apple removed some great resources for Mac users from its store shelves, the company's primary delivery method for reaching its customers. That's bad for the platform.

In addition, the company managed to increase by many, many fold the amount of press this book got, which even a half-hearted attempt to analyze the situation ahead of time would have predicted. In fact, Wiley doubled its press run, so what the hell did the bozos at Apple who made this decision think they would accomplish?

Yep, that was Folly. Folly with a capital F. Actually, let's make that FOLLY.

Where I disagree, however, is with Mr. Philipson's conclusion concerning all this Folly: "In the past few years the iPod and continued innovation of the Macintosh architecture have ensured Apple's survival where many - myself included - had predicted its demise. But if it continues its own march of folly, that demise will be inevitable."

Apple's numerous Follies haven't killed the company in almost 30 years of doing business, and this latest stupidity over iCon Steve Jobs isn't going to seriously hurt the company, either. It will just boost sales of the book, as mentioned.

Perhaps Mr. Philipson is just looking for a sort of way-out after having predicted Apple's death in the past. The company innovated its way out of some other problems, so picking on the company's blunders over the past few decades may have just been an easy out.

In reality, I think it safe to say that Apple's future is brighter than ever, even if my own personal view is lessened by the Wiley and rumor site business.

When you get down to it, however, even that list of corporate Folly that we looked at isn't all that bad. Yes, Apple has had its share of mistakes, but most multi-billion dollar companies have. It's just part of the process.

Saying that these kinds of mistakes, even the stupid moves against its fan base, will doom Apple is similar to someone predicting in the mid-1990s that Microsoft Bob was going to destroy that company.

Welcome to the Apple Death Knell Counter, Mr. Philipson. You can find his full editorial at The Age.

(If anyone knows of Mr. Philipson's past Apple Death Knells, please so I can add them to the ADKC.)