First Apple's interim CEO Steve Jobs decides not to give the keynote address at the UK's hyped-up Apple Expo 2000. Then Apple UK is forced into an embarrassing U(S)-turn, with Jobsian orders to abandon its own show altogether. After keeping quiet during the resulting exhibitor and customer panic, Apple pulled the plug on the whole UK Mac show by refusing its former partner - show organizer US Web/CKS - the right to use even the name Apple Expo in the UK. Macworld Online readers emailed us in their hundreds to complain at the lack of a UK show - after three years of putting up with Apple-less expos.
Then in November, Apple announced that it was scrapping the British-English version of the Mac OS. Native dictionaries and keyboard layouts would remain, but all interface spellings - 'color', 'Favorites', etc - would conform to US-English from Mac OS 9 onwards. Cue 200 more reader emails debating the move.
Now, in surely 1999's final anti-UK action, Apple US has stripped its UK marketing team to a skeleton PR crew - ironically, to change the spellings on US-written press releases.
Yes, every single piece of Apple marketing now comes straight from the the US HQ in Cupertino, California. And it is all channelled through the office of Steve Jobs before it leaves the Apple campus. Infinite Loop, indeed.
Look-&-feel is the name of the game at Apple. It's Steve Jobs' creed. Jobs is a master at marketing, and the firmest believer in an utterly singular look-&-feel. The fact that one man - Jobs himself - must OK every piece of paper, every expo stand, and every cardboard box that carries the Apple brand name is, on the whole, good news for the company and for us. Steve does it well, very well.
Apple UK's marketing department - while still minimally staffed - has been redundant, from a 'control' perspective, for at least the last two years. It was no secret that this lack of control - especially recently in the heat of the Apple Expo fiasco - often exasperated the UK managers.
Every local idea goes under Jobs' Mac micro-management-scope, and most - rightly or wrongly - don't make it further than his wastebask... trash can. With all the TV and print ads, product literature, and online content created in the US, and all decisions costing over the value of Jobs' annual salary ($1) made in Cupertino, what exactly was the point of a full-blown UK marketing department?
As Apple UK seemed to book nearly all its TV ads on Channel 4, it's not going to be difficult for some suit in California to work out where to place the ads - that person will almost certainly know the difference between 'Friends', 'Frazier' and 'South Park'.
It was a rare day when the UK product-marketing department even had half of Apple's current models in stock for press evaluation - despite many of them being manufactured in Ireland and Wales. It was often a case of don't-look-&-feel-bad at Apple's UK HQ, based just outside Heathrow airport.
So the loss of an effective UK product-marketing department is tempered by the fact that that entity never really lived up to the part about being "effective".
What is worrying is that Steve Jobs didn't notice this rather obvious fact a little earlier. UK cutomers won't lose out much with Apple Europe doing all the rubber-stamping... until Steve Jobs himself decides to leave Apple to its own devices again. What will happen when Steve packs up his micro-management-scope, and lets someone else make decisions? The form suggests that a Steve-less Apple hires people that make bad decisions, race around in wrong directions, and spend most of their working day watching the share price slide into the Pacific.
Apple's UK customers will find themselves at the mercy of marketeers in Europe, and we all know how well the UK and Europe get on. Expect fireworks ... and expect those fireworks to have been made in France.
This third piece of corporate marketing streamlining may very well be another good idea from Mr Jobs. But, after the Expo debacle – a real PR blunder made for Apple UK by Apple US - and the "International-English" outcry - another PR blunder readymade by our American cousins - it might seem politic for Steve to aim his look-&-feel shotgun at another nation for a while.