So this post from 1997 titled “101 Ways to Save Apple” made it to the front page of Hacker News today. Ahh, what a great look back to a time that really doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. It was only 17 years ago, but the Apple of 1997 and the Apple of 2014 might as well be completely different companies.
The thing is, looking back at these kind of things is always good for a bit of a laugh in retrospect, but it’s a great reflection of the world that existed at the time. In 1997, Apple was a lost company, bereft of innovation and being crushed under the weight of its own decisions. So, while some of these ideas are very off the wall, and some of them are so off the wall they’re probably not meant to be serious, keep in mind that we’re looking at this from a 2014 perspective where Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world.
What is truly interesting to me, though, is how many of these ideas Apple actually did do! Let’s look through them, shall we?
Don’t disappear from the retail chains.
Apple opened their first retail store in 2001, in a decision that was widely criticized at the time. Keep in mind that only a few months before, Gateway 2000 (remember them?) had closed their remaining retail stores. The whole idea of a computer company running retail stores seemed like a terrible idea.
But not for Apple. It gave them a chance to show their products to people, in an environment they could control.
Besides this, in addition to their own retail outlets, they currently have mini-stores in Best Buy. Although I’m taking bets as to how much longer Best Buy will be around…
Fire the people who forecast product demand.
Tim Cook joined Apple in 1998 and completely reworked their supply chain to eliminate the problem mentioned in the point.
Get a great image campaign.
Apple has done brilliantly with their advertising since 1997. The “Think Different” ad campaign especially comes to mind here.
Do something creative with the design of the box and separate yourselves from the pack.
In 1998 Apple would launch the iMac G3 with multi-colored cases. They continued to do things like this throughout the early 2000s; everyone was still using plastic, they were making laptops from Titanium. Even today, Apple’s clean metallic design is still a counterpoint to plastic PC laptops covered in needless stickers.
Take better care of your customers.
I have yet to have a bad experience at an Apple Store. Usually they blow me away with their service.
Stop being buttoned-down corporate.
Remember the Mac vs. PC ads?
Create a new logo.
The new all-black logo launched in 1999.
Build a PDA for less than $250 that actually does something: a) cellular email b) 56-channel TV c) Internet phone.
Invest heavily in Newton technology.
The price point is off, but this is pretty much the iPhone. Although it doesn’t have “TV” it has anything that’s on the Internet. Which is pretty much everything.
Newton was a great product and was far, far ahead of its time. But the iPhone is everything Newton was and more.
Port the OS to the Intel platform.
Apple transitioned to Intel chips in 2005. The process began in 2001, and for years, Apple maintained an internal Intel build of OS X.
Take advantage of NeXT’s easy and powerful OpenStep.
NextStep frameworks still underpin OSX and iOS, as does Objective-C.
Build a laptop that weighs 2 pounds.
It took years for the technology to make this a reality arrived, but the Macbook Air weighs about 2 pounds.
Continue your research in voice recognition.
Although Apple ended up buying Stanford Research in the end to get the technology right, this idea eventually became Siri.
Give Steve Jobs as much authority as he wants in new product development.
Probably the single best move Apple made in 1997.
Sell off the laser printer business.
Apple did end up getting out of the printer business sometime after 1997. The last printer they released was the LaserWriter 8500 in 1997.
Team up with Sony.
The funny thing is, this almost happened in 2001!
Simplify your PC product line.
Check out this timeline of Macintosh models. Look at what happens around the first part of 1998. Apple killed off many of the Performa, PowerMac, Quadra and other models to focus solely on a few models of Mac. It really is very dramatic when you see it on the timeline.
Solidify the management team.
I would argue that Steve’s biggest legacy was building an amazing team that could take over for him and keep the company together.
Speed sells. Push your advantage.
They did this for the longest time with the old PowerPC processors. I remember looking longingly at a Titanium Powerbook G4 in 2002.
Develop proprietary programs that run only on Macs.
Develop a way to program that requires no scripting or coding.
Hey, it’s Automator!
This reminds me of those “Switch” ads that Apple ran in the early 2000s.
Don’t worry. You’ll survive. It’s Netscape we should really worry about.
That’s a prescient point. The saga of the rise and fall of Netscape is one of the bigger stories from the first dot-com boom.