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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17 Responses to “Is Apple Forgetting History?”

  1. ZiggyBop says:

    Wired has the story (and a cool “25 Years of Mac: Product Timeline” photo)

    When asked about Mac’s 25th anniversary, Jobs said “When I got back here in 1997, I was looking for more room, and I found an archive of old Macs and other stuff. I said, ‘Get it away!’ and I shipped all that shit off to Stanford. If you look backward in this business, you’ll be crushed. You have to look forward.”

  2. gopher says:

    I still remember the 20th anniversary Mac was actually a 20th anniversary Apple in 1997.
    Was there a 25th anniversary Mac in 2002? No.
    Was there a real 20th anniversary Mac in 2004? No.
    Nor was there a 5th anniversary iPod.
    Nor was there a 10th anniversary iMac, which would have been symbolic of the first Mac to make a difference.
    Yes, Apple seems to have forgotten history. And perhaps for the better.

  3. MichaelT says:

    I don’t think looking back is in Steve Jobs’ DNA. I bet the first thing he does when he buys a new car is tear off the rear-view mirrors.

  4. MichaelT wrote:

    I don’t think looking back is in Steve Jobs’ DNA. I bet the first thing he does when he buys a new car is tear off the rear-view mirrors.

    A 25th anniversary is, I feel, a supremely special event. I might be totally wrong when it comes to product marketing, but even Apple has continued to recognize that original TV spot as significant.

    And, of course, I’d never want to end up driving behind Steve Jobs — ever. 🙂


  5. MichaelT says:

    Gene Steinberg wrote:

    A 25th anniversary is, I feel, a supremely special event. I might be totally wrong when it comes to product marketing, but even Apple has continued to recognize that original TV spot as significant.
    And, of course, I’d never want to end up driving behind Steve Jobs — ever.

    I don’t know that I’d want to drive in front of him either. The way I see him, he knows where he wants to go, he knows where he is, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get from here to there.

    I agree that the 25th is important. But I don’t think Steve would think that at all. It’s just a number.

  6. Some feel that Apple is not really all that interested anymore in the “devoted” Mac users, the ones who stuck with the platform all these days. They consider themselves beyond such considerations now.

    While it may be part and parcel of their greater market share, it’s also unfortunate.


  7. MichaelT says:

    Hmm. Market share. I wonder how many of us ARE the devoted users. Maybe the majority are the newcomers, and Apple feels that those are the customers to be loyal to.

    I guess I have to resign myself to the thought that I use Macs because I think they are the best. I suppose the company doesn’t have to reward me for sticking with them through the ’90s, but it sure would be nice to feel appreciated.

  8. Billy Offspring says:

    Apple is a technology business and not in the sentimental business like a greeting card company. Don’t ever expect a silver, gold or any other anniversary Mac while Steve is around. That crazy Powerbook on legs with the Bose speakers was a good concept model and worked well in the 90’s as a movie prop but there were just not enough suckers out their to have it turn a profit and that is what businesses try to do.

  9. DaveD says:

    Yes, I do agree that Apple does not look back. The vision of product failures tend to overwhelm the successes. I think that Apple acknowledged the success of the Macintosh by renaming their high profile computers to start with “Mac.” Apple continues to push ahead with new ideas and when it works, users benefit greatly.

    I would like to see on Apple’s website a full-screen banner announcing the 25th anniversary with the original Macintosh. It showed the world that not only is there another way, but a better way of using a computer.

  10. David says:

    Steve Jobs is a great believer in getting to where everyone else is going before the rest even realize it’s an interesting destination. He is not one to look back.

    Apple moved past the “devoted” many years ago and we now represent a tiny fraction of their revenue. Steve probably wishes we’d all just go away and take our FireWire 400 devices with us. Steve probably thinks people who have collections of old Macs are crazy and those who celebrate the anniversaries of their collections even more so.

    I believe a 25th Anniversary celebration of the Macintosh would be great PR for the company. Nostalgia is an amazingly powerful tool in sales, something Steve definitely knows even if he despises it.

    The sorry state of the Mac desktop lineup also makes things ripe for a recognition of the anniversary.

    Almost every component in the Mac mini is at least three years old (the processor is two years old). It’s a wonder Steve hasn’t insisted it be killed to save the embarrassment so there must be a lot of people out there who think it’s OK to pay $799 for a $349 computer.
    The iMac is a curious machine. It’s a notebook in a desktop case and intentionally trades off some performance for lower energy consumption. It was updated last spring so it’s only a little overdue for a refresh, but has fallen way behind the PC competition. PCs priced anywhere near the iMac have had quad core processors for the past year and a half and even bargain PCs come with more RAM and bigger hard drives. Sure many PCs have built-in graphics that are no better than the iMac’s Radeon HD2600, but a few minutes and $100 puts a modern card into any desktop PC.
    The Mac Pro is a niche product, but even so is long overdue for an update or price drop. While Apple can point to Intel’s decision to delay the Corei7 Xeon this time, the last refresh took an astonishing 17 months to happen, almost double the average refresh time for the G5 tower.

  11. Richard says:

    The timing of the 25th Anniversary would be just about right for a product introduction of the “missing things” at MacWorld. Could it be that the new lineup of Nehalam/iCore based machines (including a quad core MacBook Pro) simply were not finalized and hence could not be announced at MacWorld? What better time to preview/introduce Snow Leopard than the dead of winter?

    There would not be much else happening in the tech world at that time and so Apple could expect a lot of press coverage during the winter doldrums.

    The major competition for press coverage at that time would be the Super Bowl, Daytona Speed Weeks and the SI Swimsuit Issue 😉

  12. Bill in NC says:

    Snow Leopard is due this summer.

    It would be nice if Apple could make an iMac without defects.

    I don’t trust them to do so, so I’m waiting for a new Mac mini.

    Otherwise, I’ll just buy an Atom-based barebones setup and build my own.

  13. Apple’s greatest successes lie in the future. Walk into the light and never look back. Ever. 🙂

  14. Stephen says:

    Looking at it from a hard-nosed business perspective, Apple is doing exactly the right thing – I’ve always said that if they can get two people for every one they alienate, they will do so in a heartbeat. Also, the best demographics are the 18-24 year-olds – the new Apple still follows the old Apple in pursuing the education/college market. You get them hooked on brand Apple, and you’ve got them for life. They also tend to spend more and communicate more than the those of us who stuck with them when there was only one space between “beleaguered” and “Apple”. I was at the show and it seems that there were two groups of people – creative professionals to whom Apple still supports and the old-time Mac community who join user groups and run small businesses and generally put a social aspect to the Mac experience.

    The final nail on our coffin is that Apple knows that we (or the vast majority of us) will continue to buy from them no matter what they do. We lost some folks to Windows95, we lost some going to OSX, almost none by going Intel, but by and large, the old-time Mac community is intact. I hate to say it, but we’re like the dependent girlfriend in an abusive relationship with a guy who ignores us or takes us for granted.

  15. Andrew says:

    Apple still takes care of us, they just don’t make a big deal about arbitrary dates or past achievements.

    Apple still has, by far, the best service and support in the industry. They still produce amazing products and continue to develop OS X, which really is why we are here.

    Apple has gotten bigger, but I believe its products have also gotten better, and the fact that Snow Leopard is focused on improving the plumbing clearly tells me that Apple cares about the quality of the user experience as much as it ever had.

  16. Bo says:

    I was at a museum with some almost 20 year old students a couple of weeks ago, and there it was on display, the SE/30. They didn’t get it. In no way did they get it. That computer was built around when they were born and it was about as hot to them as a crystal radio was to me when I was about to leave my teens. Apple grows by selling new stuff to new customers, not by patting me, an old hand in this game, on my back acknowledging my long standing support, so I can’t say that I will be surprised if the 25 year anniversery goes unnoticed by the company.

  17. Perhaps, but there are millions of these long-time Mac users who have been loyal to the platform and have bought from Apple over and over again. They have to pay at least lip service to these people.


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