Apple's greatest triumphs
1. Inventing the wheel
No, not that wheel (though frankly, we wouldn't be surprised if Apple claimed a patent on it). We're talking about the iPod click wheel. While by itself not the world's most earth-shattering innovation, the click wheel ultimately led to the tapping/swiping touchscreen interface beloved by the iPhone faithful, says Austin O'Malley, executive vice president for R&D at CAD software maker SolidWorks.
"The iPod Classic’s click wheel allowed users to seamlessly filter thousands of songs with a few clicks," he says. "Although it did not make the jump to Apple’s iPhone, the click wheel paved the way for users to become accustomed to convenience and depth at their fingertips."
2. Not becoming Microsoft
For decades, Microsoft has shamelessly tried to ape Apple; first the Windows GUI, then the Zune, and now Windows Phone 7. But Apple has wisely not tried to become Microsoft, with one disastrous exception -- from 1995 to 1997 when it licensed the Mac OS to clone makers and tried to sell enterprise servers. Being the anti-Microsoft -- focusing on consumer-friendly products, innovation instead of imitation, and quality instead of quantity -- enabled Apple to not only survive but thrive. In fact, last April Apple surpassed Microsoft in profitability
3. Image management
Steve Jobs doesn't understand who his users are, he understands who they imagine themselves to be. Hence the brilliance of Apple's "I'm a Mac" ad campaign, or for that matter, "Think different." Mac and Windows users really don't think that differently, but these ads give Mac owners a reason to feel good about having paid more for their machines. Can anyone say that about the Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld commercials?
"Apple pioneered the practice of selling a computer based on how you use it and how sexy it is, rather than on the features it comes with," notes David Brainer-Banker, a software engineer at eImagine Technology Group. "This may seem obvious now, but a decade or so ago most computer advertising revolved around megahertz, megabytes, and floating point units."
4. Minding the store
The iPod was just another MP3 player before the iTunes Store came along in 2003 and dragged the music industry kicking and screaming into the 21st century. A few years later Apple did the same thing to Hollywood, bringing TV shows and full-length movies to the really small screen. Jobs' ability to bend the music and movie industries to his will enabled the creation of a digital content economy that previously didn't exist. The result? The Amazon Kindle Store, Netflix streaming, Hulu -- and, of course, app stores for every mobile OS.
5. The return of the king
You can imagine Facebook without Zuckerberg. Google would probably soldier on just fine without Larry and Sergey. Microsoft is arguably better without Gates (and probably will improve even more once Ballmer hits the highway). Without Jobs, though, Apple would be a footnote in the history of personal computing. Cast your mind back to the dark days of July 1997, before Jobs returned as "interim CEO." Apple had just lost $1 billion on revenues of $7 billion. Its stock was trading at $4 a share. It was ripe for acquisition or even liquidation.
Last year Apple's net profit exceeded $14 billion; it's now trading north of $370 a share. The blogosphere does back flips breath every time Apple hints that it might introduce something new, while the rest of the tech world scrambles frantically to catch up. And Apple owes it all to the ruthless, dictatorial, painfully thin man in the black mock turtleneck.
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