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Carlton, a West Coast technology reporter for the Wall Street Journal, here provides an in-depth look at Apple's woes through the years. There are no easy answers to its failures, though it's tempting to blame former CEOs like Michael Spindler, the German- born leader so rattled by his job that he left, literally, on life support; Gil Amelio, a techie who didn't understand how to market a brand-name; and even Steve Jobs, a larger-than-life presence ousted by John Sculley, who was later ousted himself. Apple's real downfall may have been how loyal its users became—Sculley, who had been a fantastic marketer at Pepsi, refused to license Macintosh applications and even the Mac "box," a decision that pared down Apple's users to a tiny band of fanatics. Companies were attracted to the elegant Macintosh but were dissuaded when they couldn't buy inexpensive knock-offs, as they could with so many other brands, and the inefficient Microsoft system became the industry standard. Time and again, Apple misunderstood the demands of the market; for example, when the company introduced the PowerBook, it overstocked the cheap model and understocked the top-of-the-line models, ignoring the obvious fact that computer fans are willing to spend money in order to get the latest tech toy. Thousands of orders for the expensive PowerBook went unfilled, and Apple suffered a blow to its ego and its bottom line. But while its problems are fairly evident, Carlton fails to get at the heart of Apple, to what inspired such devotion from users and employees. And like so many products in the high-tech industry, this book is already somewhat obsolete, with the recent resignation of Mike Markkula and the return of Steve Jobs.
Apple fans are a die-hard bunch, and this dry corporate history simply lacks the passion that Mac users feel about their product.
Business editor Laurie Petersen talked recently with Wall Street Journal reporter Jim Carlton about the rebound of Apple Computer. The company's revived fortunes coincide with the paperback release of Carlton's book Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders.
barnesandnoble.com: Were you surprised by Apple's comeback?
Jim Carlton: Flabbergasted. When I did the hardcover book (in 1997) it seemed like it would take nothing less than Jesus Christ himself to bring the company back. I gave them 12 to 18 months.
bn.com: What do you think is different about Steve Jobs this time?
JC: I think failure changed him. He was thrown out of the company he founded. Then NeXT failed, in part because he wouldn't put a floppy drive into the box. I think he learned from that. [Although the iMac has no floppy, either.] The success of Pixar gave him a lot of confidence. He returned to Apple more mature. The last two chapters of my book now talk about this.
bn.com: What do you think of the company's long-term prospects?
JC: I'm still skeptical about the long term. Moving from 40 products to four, the G3 at the high end and the iMac at the low end, is a brilliant strategy. Killing clones I thought was a mistake. When I asked Jobs about it, he told me, "Believe me, it was the last thing I wanted to do. But the numbers didn't work out." Their market share was 3.2 percent at the end of the second quarter. With the iMac, it's finally hit 4 percent worldwide. But that's just nothing compared to what the rest of the industry is shipping.
bn.com: How much of the iMac's success do you attribute to the marketing?
JC: Apple for years has had abysmal marketing. But when Jobs unveiled the iMac, I went to the launch and when he pulled off the curtain and it said "hello again," I got goosebumps. Then when I got outside I said, "Let me look at the specs again. Oh, it doesn't have a floppy drive." I thought they'd be backed up, but they're doing very well meeting first-time-buyer demand.
bn.com: What about its power niches?
JC: Apple still has 60 percent of the desktop publishing business. But even places like Dartmouth, which is a Mac-fanatic school, have had to put their foot in the other door because of applications. In the final analysis, it's really too little too late to return Apple to a leadership position in the industry. What they may wind up doing is leading the way for a new generation of computer design. Just the way the Mac revolutionized the interface, the iMac is a revolutionary new design.
bn.com: What do you use?
JC: A Mac at home and Windows at the office.
bn.com: What other books do you recommend?
JC: I recommend AOL.com by my colleague Kara Swisher. I also really like On the Firing Line by Gil Amelio. You very rarely see a CEO spilling his guts the way he did. I think even someone who didn't follow the industry would get something from this book. I'm halfway through The Microsoft File, which I know is under some controversy about its sourcing. Another great book about the industry is Accidental Empires by Robert Cringely. He talks a lot about their personal lives, you know, how Bill Gates could never get a date.
Posted February 11, 2004
computer fans rejoice !! this book offers a great perspective into Apple and the whole computer industry of the 70's and 80's. some of the jargon is a bit tech-minded, but it is still easy and fun to read. i only wish the publisher would have added a picture gallery .Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 8, 2000
a very comprehensive and interesting account of Apple Computer. Written from a journalists perspective. Perhaps a little too negative about the Apple corporate culture?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.