The Return of the Apple: How Innovation Saved the Mac

I was, for many years, a self-proclaimed Microsoft fanatic. Regardless of all the “bad” (isn’t that a relative term anyway?) things that Microsoft represents, it’s undeniable that, without Gate’s business practices, the early years of personal computers would have taken much longer to “come of age” and we’d be in a very different computer environment right now. I was a PC user from birth (just about) and supported IBM-clones because I grew up with them. Being raised on PCs, I was naturally anti-Apple because of the strong rivalry between the two types of computers.

It wasn’t until recently that I looked back and saw that Apple has, for a long time, been an innovator and early adapter to new technology. You name it, and chances are Apple had it first. A good example, but also one that shows too much fore-sight, is that Apple came up with one of the first real PDAs, the Newton. That bug-infested monster of a PDA was large and, at first, not amazingly user-friendly (though it was discontinued, there are still people out there writing software and designing hardware for them in their free time). The Newton showed incredible intuition and creativity on Apple’s part because, even today, PDA’s are a hot item in many fields of business.

USB was first seen on their computers when PC’s still were using the archaic PS2 (most still are!) and serial ports for input devices. Firewire is a standard feature on the majority of Apple computers when PC’s users barely ever have it (Firewire tends to be more for video, thus working perfectly with Macs since they are better for video production than the vast majority of PCs). The Apple laptops were among the first to come with a optional WIFI card built into the computer; PC’s have only had that for a few years. There are many more examples of how Apple is an innovator and has changed the face of computers as we know them, but those are too many to discuss.

Despite these advances, Apple still has a very narrow niche-market in the computer industry; digital video and audio production, digital art and design, journalism, and many other occupations tend towards Apple computers. With a small percent of the total PC market, Apple Computers was financially hurting until it created it’s latest computer component. The IPOD.

Always the forbearer of new technology, Apple took a gamble with it’s 5GB portable media player. Some think it was almost a last-ditch effort on Apple’s part to make a product that no other major company had that would save the company from it’s financial burdens.

Regardless of it’s intentions, Apple struck at the right time with the right product. The digital music revolution was in full force; the vast majority of college-age and twenty-something’s at that point knew about the magical MP3 and this was their Mecca. The iPod was an easy-to-carry device that could handle literally thousands of songs all accessible in an instant without a computer; what more could anyone who is into music ask for?

The iPod became the must-have item of 2001. Now on its fourth generation, the normal-sized iPods and their mini counterparts are deeply engrained into our society; so much so that walking down a street in any major city you will see a hand-full of Apple-white ear buds leading into the person’s pocket. A few months back Apple, for the first time in nearly a decade, stated that it’s no longer in debt to any lender and is on it’s way back to being a strong competitor in the computer and electronics market. The implied meaning is that the iPod helped save the company since it’s release 3 years ago. This year alone, Apple had sales of well over two billion dollars and around the holidays last year even had to delay production of a few of it’s computer lines to meet the demand for iPods and the new minis.

The iPod isn’t the only reason for Apple’s return to the spotlight. Their newest computer processors (the higher speed G4s and brand new G5s) and operating system (OS 10.3) have been huge successes as well. They have been doing so well, in fact, that computer sales this year are up 14% ( from last year with more potential for sales as soon as the new G5 generations of PowerBooks and iBooks hit the markets later this year and when OS 10.4 (Tiger) is released early in 2005.

With all of the innovations and advances that Apple has brought about in both it’s hardware and software, my stance on the company has turned a full 180 in the last few years. I look forward to using more of the UNIX-based computers and listening to their digital audio players in the near future.



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