Apple is currently the world’s largest tech company, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Established on 1 April, 1976, Apple has moved from CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs’ garage, to offices in 317 locations around the world, plus 323 Apple Stores. The past 10 years has seen Apple redefine consumer electronics and become a household name. With Apple at the height of its success, we look back over the past 35 years to see what made it the company it is today.
1997: The return of Jobs
With Jobs back in the hot seat, the iMac is launched, propelling Apple to new heights
Apple was haemorrhaging cash; Mac OS was dated while Copland, its internal attempt at developing a next-generation OS, was failing; its organisation was a mess; takeover talks were doomed.
CEO Gil Amelio created short-term funding, cut superfluous product development, and set to work on Mac OS 8 while searching for a next-generation OS. At one point he considered adopting Windows NT, before choosing Steve Jobs and NeXT, which Apple acquired for $400m in 1996. Jobs finally returned to Apple with the deal in late 1996.
“It’s perfect,” said IDG’s Bob Metcalfe in 1996. “The new team at Apple has Amelio and [chief technology officer] Ellen Hancock. They are extremely competent, but they lack one thing: charisma. Steve adds that to the mix.” Within a year both Amelio and Hancock were out and Jobs had taken over as interim CEO, becoming full CEO in 2000.
“Apple leads when it expresses its vision through its products, exciting you and making you proud to own a Mac,” said Steve Jobs, announcing the first iMac (“Internet-age computer for the rest of us”) in 1998
Jobs began restructuring and closed the clone business. “We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose,” he told a stunned Macworld Expo 1997 crowd, announcing a $150m deal with Microsoft to include Internet Explorer with Mac OS and to make Office for Mac. Apple also launched its first online store, the Apple Store, based on NeXT’s WebObjects application server. Every connected Apple product now had a store built-in.
The turnaround really began with the launch of the iMac in 1998. This all-in-one Mac turned heads with its translucent plastic design, built-in modem and lack of floppy drive. Sales blazed. One million sold in a year – 43 per cent to people new to Apple’s platform – delivering three profitable quarters in a row. In 1999, Apple introduced the clamshell iBook notebook, instantly creating a new market for WiFi with AirPort technology. Apple’s British-born chief designer, Jonathan Ive, also wooed the professional market with the powerful and uniquely-designed Power Mac range. Beautiful design bought Apple time.
Meanwhile, the OS team were actively developing Mac OS X (Rhapsody). Based on NeXT software, Apple made sure to put aesthetics inside the future of the Mac interface. “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them,” said Jobs, discussing the Aqua user interface. Years later we learned the object-based interface was all about touch, not taste. Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah, launched in March 2001, was followed by the faster and more complete 10.1 Puma in September that year.
Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior VP of industrial design, has been with the company since 1996, where he has won numerous design awards for his succession of excellent products
The move to the new OS accelerated when at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2002, Jobs presided over a mock funeral for OS 9. “Mac OS 9 isn’t dead for our customers yet, but it’s dead for [developers],” he said. “Today we say farewell to OS 9 for all future development, and we focus our energies on developing for Mac OS X.”
Perhaps the most important product was the smallest. Saying “Listening to music will never be the same again,” Jobs introduced the $399 iPod in October 2001. Digital music fans snapped-up 400,000 in the first year. The iPod halo began illuminating the new Apple century.