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  • Is Apple Forgetting History?

    January 8th, 2009

    I think many of the people went to San Francisco to listen to Philip Schiller’s keynote at the Macworld Expo expected him to say something in observance of the fact that the Mac’s 25th anniversary is coming later this month. Who can forget, for example, that famous 1984 commercial, directed by none other than Ridley Scott, which introduced the “computer for the rest of us” to the masses?

    Well, it appears Apple might have forgotten. If you listen over and over again to that tepid keynote — and I don’t know why you would — you will find the word Mac repeated frequently, but not its forthcoming anniversary. You would think that Schiller could have spent five or ten minutes highlighting the history of the platform, perhaps starting with that famous TV ad and going through the major products that were introduced over the years.

    Yes you’d think that would make perfect sense, but not to Apple.

    True, there might be some sort of special media event — or perhaps a lineup of special 25th anniversary products — being readied for later this month. Maybe we’ll hear about it a few days before it happens, which usually prevents out-of-town journalists from taking advantage of the lower-cost flights to the Silicon Valley. But I am not at all optimistic about such a thing.

    As with the 20th anniversary, it appears that Apple isn’t very interested in letting us know how they got from there to here; there’s no sense of history whatever. And, no, it’s not true that all of Apple’s leadership arrived with Steve Jobs after his other computing company, NeXT, was purchased. Sure, there are plenty of conspiracy theories about how the NeXT people staged a palace coup, threw out everything in their stead, and let their own ideas and products prevail.

    Yes I know that some of you feel that, in transitioning the original NeXT operating system to Mac OS X, Apple ignored certain key features of the Classic Mac OS, and threw them by the wayside. They may have had their reasons, but it may not have been the result of politics. The development team’s leadership might have honestly believed they had better ideas, and in many respects, they were right on.

    Lest we forget, Philip Schiller’s entire tenure at Apple numbers 17 years, so he has served under different CEOs. Product design genius Jonathan Ive was also present at Apple before Jobs returned, although perhaps his vast talents went unrecognized at the time.

    So I really don’t pretend to know why Apple seems to want to forget the past, or allude to it only in a passing fashion.

    It’s also true, I suppose, that Apple, under Steve Jobs, isn’t averse to tossing out whole products and features wholesale. I suppose that made an awful lot of sense when he took over the company he co-founded, and had to deal with lots of red ink and poorly-implemented designs and marketing plans. Most any product segment that didn’t tie-in entirely to the Mac platform was discarded, and the overwrought model designations were vastly simplified. Maybe simplified too much, as I’ve said previously, but everything was focused on a small number of distinct choices in the desktop and note-book categories.

    But none of that would have happened had the original Mac designers not paved the way in the early 1980s, when they created the first all-in-one Macintosh. Although there had been efforts to develop graphical user interfaces before the Mac debuted, most failed in the marketplace. When it comes to commercial operating systems, it was all Apple or Microsoft. Yes, Linux and other Unix distributions have their own graphical “shells” that attempt to put pretty faces on everything, but they remain the province of power users who love to tweak and tinker with open source software.

    When you compare Apple to other long-time product lines, you can see where they have confounded the experts. They’ve been counted out time and time again, only to rise from the ashes and return bigger than ever. That is a great story in and of itself.

    Indeed, how many products survive near as long? VHS took over the videotape market in the 1980s. Try to find one today, except on eBay, or in a cheap deck integrated with a DVD player or recorder. When you go to a music store, everything is on a CD, or a music DVD. Cassettes are gone, and only the demands of a small band of hard-core fanatics keep a limited set of vinyl recordings in production.

    I could go on and on. DVDs will fade completely in a few years, replaced partly by Blu-ray, but probably in large part by movie downloads. CDs will join them too in the dustbin of dead media formats. After all, the largest music retailer on the planet, Apple iTunes, is all-digital, right?

    Now, as I said, perhaps Apple’s marketing people decided to keep their Macworld Expo participation low-key, since it’s their last. Maybe there will be some observance of the Mac’s 25th anniversary. But if Apple thinks it’s not important, they are making a huge mistake.

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