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How Can Journalists Be So Wrong About Apple?

Let’s take a trip back through time, to the 1990s, where the words “Apple” and “beleaguered” were usually described in the same sentence, rarely more than a few words apart. I suppose you could say that there was a death watch too, with lots and lots of publications waiting for Apple to bite the big one, or just go bankrupt and get swallowed up by another company. In a few years, the name would remain, but everything else would be history.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way, although Apple came mighty close to the precipice for a while, as it began to hemorrhage money in the mid-1990s. This all happened before they succumbed to the famous Steve Jobs sales pitch (notice I didn’t say “reality distortion field,” but you get the idea) and bought NeXT.

I suppose, with all of Apple’s missteps, you could forgive a number of tech writers for suggesting that Windows 95 contained all the significant features of the Mac OS, and that Apple’s remaining opportunities to remain alive in the PC business were doomed to failure. There were times when I felt I had to force myself to convince people that Macs were still better, and the best those T-shirts could display was “Macs suck less than Windows.”

Of course, when Apple actually heeded demands to open its operating system and license it and hardware reference designs to other companies to build Mac OS clones, it was a train wreck of the first order. Startups such as Power Computing went right after Apple’s key markets with cheaper boxes and faster processors. Steve Jobs understood the dangers and stopped the program dead in its tracks before the company was destroyed by its own licensees.

Even when the first iMac took the world by storm, many suggested that Apple was forever consigned to niche status, and could never grow its market share again.

When the iPod came out, how many of you believed that it would soon come to dominate the media player market, and that there would be an iTunes store that would actually do more business on the Windows platform?

Sure, every single pretender to the throne was touted as the “iPod killer” of the day, only to disappear the next. Microsoft’s Zune was believed to have the best chance of gaining traction, but it came at the expense of Microsoft’s nearly-abandoned “PlaysForSure” partners.

Oh yes, there’s a report that the Zune has been a top seller at Amazon, but that’s the discontinued first edition, being dumped at fire-sale prices because Microsoft had some many left in their warehouses. Seems Microsoft has a reputation for flooding the market with product to tout high shipping rates, as dealers struggle mightily to get them off the shelves and into the hands of customers. The newest Zunes are showing tepid sales, just like their predecessors when they were first introduced.

Do you remember what the critics said when Apple decided to open its own chain of retail outlets? After all, Gateway had failed, so how could Apple possibly succeed? Give it a year or two, and they’ll give up and run off, tails tucked between their legs. Of course, with 201 stores and record visitors and profits, the naysayers were wrong yet again.

The iPhone? Wow, how could Apple even think of entering the well-entrenched wireless phone market. It’s so saturated, that the carriers are now signing up more and more subscribers at the expense of their rivals, perhaps including the beleaguered (there’s that word again) Sprint, which is the only major company to actually show a loss of customers in recent quarters.

From the very date of the official iPhone announcement at last January’s San Francisco Macworld Expo, a number of journalists tried to find reasons to justify their claim that Apple couldn’t possibly make a dent with such a product. It had to be a flash in the pan.

Besides, who’d want to use a touch screen keyboard, when they could use the physical version on their Blackberries? Did Apple really feel the world needed another cell phone?

To make matters worse, how could Apple possibly succeed if they made a deal with an existing wireless provider? So would they end up having to build their own network too?

Of course, we all know that the dire predictions never came to pass, and that Mac sales are at record levels, even after Apple was accused of pushing its consumer electronic products at the expense of its personal computers.

Then again, good news doesn’t always make a headline. If it bleeds it leads, they used to tell me in my days as a broadcast newsperson. And that, my friends, won’t ever change, I fear.