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Are You Waiting for Apple to Fail?

For decades, most everything Apple did was greeted by media and tech pundits with a similar response. You almost think they were using the same word processing template when they claimed there is no way for Apple to succeed, or success was just a fluke. That it happens over and over again nowadays makes you wonder what they are smoking — or drinking — to spout such silliness.

I mean, consider where Apple is today. By market cap, it’s the largest company on planet Earth. It’s higher than Microsoft at its peak in the last decade, and in the last quarter, Apple reported record profits. At a time where some suggested smartphones had become a saturated market, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus sales are on the rise. Although proclaimed the winner of the mobile gadget wars, Samsung’s sales and profits are down. So how many of the skeptics are admitting they were wrong?

Now at one time, it did seem as if Apple was doomed to failure. By the mid-1990s, and the arrival of Windows 95, it was felt by many that Microsoft had released a good enough operating system and you might as well get with the program. Mind you that I didn’t feel that way. I always thought of Windows as being rough around the edges and even rougher to use beyond the basics. But for people who spent all day with a single app, or used a Windows PC as the front-end for, say, a point-of-sale machine, it didn’t make a difference.

I know that, as a Mac user, I long endured the criticism that I had chosen the wrong platform. I remember setting up a new Mac at my home in 1989. I was using Macs at work for several years, and I had reached the point where I needed to be able to get work done at home, and that required investing in an expensive system.

In those days, if you wanted to chat online, you might go to one of those costly online services, such as CompuServe, or pay less with the fledgling America Online, now AOL. Or you ran a terminal session peer-to-peer with someone by calling their modem. Using an app known as Microphone, I was able to set up a session in a few moments. But the recipient, a PC user who was a colleague at work, didn’t fare so well.

For days, he’d tell me that his new Toshiba PC was far more powerful and useful than my lowly Mac, that his computer was a serious machine and not a toy. But when he tried to establish that terminal connection with me, he kept muttering about having to create a shell. It never seemed to work, however, and I finally just stopped bothering him about it. I didn’t see the need to embarrass him any further.

Perhaps the best thing Apple could do in those years was just to stay in business. Even when they were regarded as a costly niche product that only catered to a few people in the entertainment and publishing industries, we stuck by our beliefs.

Nothing stopped the Mac, even poor sales.

When the iPod arrived in 2001, the critics said it was an expensive gadget that few would buy. After all, it wasn’t even Apple’s business to build music players, thus entering the consumer electronics business, and they conveniently forgot that Apple was selling digital cameras and other gadgets in the 1990s.

The iPod didn’t become a serious product, I suppose, until Apple released a Windows version of iTunes, and moved to USB so the folks on the PC platform who didn’t have FireWire would be supported. It became a massive success, and sales only began an inevitable decline when Apple decided to cannibalize the iPod with the iPhone.

The iPhone, as you know, jumpstarted an industry that mostly catered to power users and executives. Apple made smartphones warm and fuzzy for regular people, and thus inspired other companies to copy the iPhone with varying degrees of success.

At first, some in the media scoffed at the sales prospects for the iPhone. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer offered his usual inebriated laughter, yet it wasn’t long before any variant of a Windows phone was a poor also-ran to iOS and Android. Served him right.

In 2010, with many anticipating an Apple tablet of some sort, some PC companies demonstrated prototypes at the Consumer Electronics Show. Of course, when it comes to CES, a great many products are displayed in prerelease form, but many never see the light of day. So much of the potential competing gear was missing in action when the iPad was launched.

With Apple Watch, the skeptics are wondering whether it’s different enough. Besides, what about all the others? Didn’t Pebble sell a million smartwatches? Isn’t that an achievement of sorts? Well, Microsoft sold that number of Surface 3 Pro tablets during the last quarter. Not good enough? Well, Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones in the same quarter.

Apple Watch? I wouldn’t presume to guess, but maybe a few million during the first quarter. Will that be good enough, despite being better than anyone else? Don’t bet on it!