Apples to Apple, Inc?
November 5, 2007 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Research Filter: How and when did Apple become so popular?

So I got to wondering, why and how exactly did Apple explode onto the market? Obvious things like redesigned, chic products aside, how did Apple maneuver its way into the industry in the manner that it did?

Bonus points for links to external information, especially ones that deal with an internal shift rather than, like I said, product redesign.
posted by InsanePenguin to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by ludwig_van at 11:43 AM on November 5, 2007

How about this? Microsoft invested a lot of money in Apple in the 90's when they were under fire for breaking antitrust laws. If Apple ever went out of business, then Microsoft would get in a lot of trouble. If this wasn't a turning point, it was certainly a helping hand for Apple to get where it is today.
posted by lou at 11:43 AM on November 5, 2007

posted by spitbull at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2007

Sorry, no links...

Steve Jobs brought technology from another company he founded, NeXT, to Apple when Apple acquired NeXT. This was the basis for OS X, which was a radical break with the old Mac OS, and allowed Apple to design a totally modern OS from the scratch, without worrying about compatibility with old software.

However, I really believe that design (hardware and software) is the reason Apple is so successful.
posted by mpls2 at 11:46 AM on November 5, 2007

No links, but when I went to college in 1984, we were required to buy a computer (financial aid was offered for this), and that computer had to be an Apple. My school was not, I'm sure, the only one that did such a thing. Since then, although I've used Windows at various jobs, the home machine has always been a Mac.
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on November 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Spitbull has it. Though, I would put the beginning of their popularity at the creation of the Apple //. There was hardly a school in the country that didn't have a brace of Apple //'s in operation. The creation of the Mac was simply a step further.

But then Microsoft got it's act together, gave us Windows, and took over the market. At the same time, Apple made some bad moves and experienced a serious decline.

Steve Job's return to Apple is really more of a huge revitalization, and not their first experience with popularity.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:51 AM on November 5, 2007

If we're talking about the recent surge in popularity, my money's on the iPod. And, more recently, the iPhone.

As for the computer end of the company formerly known as Apple Computer, Inc.? Well, there's been much in the news about OS X Leopard, including an article in the New York Times that garnered "most emailed status." Whether this is a coveted accolade or not is unknown to me.

And it's true that Apple's market share of computers is up to 8%, a doubling or more from what it was several years ago.

But 8% is still small. Very small, given the opportunities to extend this market share in the face of its closest competitor, Vista, which has received lukewarm reviews.

So you might say that much of the popularity surrounding Apple, at least concerning the desktop, operating system, and laptop computer lines, is media hype. And enthusiasm among fans like myself who hope to see these great products have their day in the sun.
posted by Gordion Knott at 12:06 PM on November 5, 2007

Apple's perceived popularity has always been disproportional to its market share. Considering all of the press they get, it's hard to believe that they only control 6% (or less) of the personal computer market.

That said, the iPod/iTunes combo has a lock on the digital music market, with roughly 70% of all players sold being made by Apple.
posted by Oktober at 12:08 PM on November 5, 2007

I'm not sure that Apple's recent popularity could be described as an "explosion", but if it is, then the iPod is the reason why.

Apple hasn't "exploded" in the computer business (in the last 20 years, at least) and almost certainly never will.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2007

Apple's market share may only be 8%, but that's of the overall market - it's much, much higher if you only look at personal, that is household, purchases, and ignore businesses - who almost never buy Macs.

Still small, sure, but also impressive in an industry where Dell and HP together comprise well over half the market - and, again, the personal vs business purchases are very different worlds.

As for the primary topic on hand, I think it's a matter of the iPod making people at least look at Apple, and the continuing improvements in OS X and, yes, physical design that's largely unmatced elsewhere in the industry making people want to buy.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:25 PM on November 5, 2007

iPod I'd say, and good marketing.

On the computer end, the switch to Intel allows people to get a Mac without having to abandon Windows due to Boot Camp and the virtualization options of Fusion and Parallels.
posted by juiceCake at 12:28 PM on November 5, 2007

ludwig_van's answer is as good as any. Apple has never exploded. They've been a company that has fairly consistently served a handful of markets (media, arts, education) with surges of popularity and lulls during other periods.

The return of Steve Jobs, the prominence of Jonathan Ive's designs, and the introduction of the iPod are the most obvious signposts for consumers. The release of Mac OS X was a big deal, especially to the more technically-minded part of the consumer base, but it's really more the result of the deal that brought Jobs back and integrated the NeXT engineers.

Product redesign and internal shift are also a lot more linked than you're assuming.

The introduction of the Apple store was probably also a brand-building exercise that has pushed Apple further into the consumer eye. They previously worked mostly through retailers that may not have pushed their products as heavily. With the Apple Store, they're able to shape the image of their products, sell additional services, and create an organized front for their products.
posted by mikeh at 12:28 PM on November 5, 2007

For what it's worth, Mac OS X was released in March 2001, the first two Apple Stores in May 2001, and the first iPod was released in October 2001. So, 2001 might be your answer.

Apple stock has fairly consistently been on the rise since 2003.
posted by mikeh at 12:32 PM on November 5, 2007

Um, they have a wikipedia article

Long story short, they got big with the Apple II, made a few mistakes, introduced the Macintosh in 1984, which didn't exactly fly off the shelves 'till 86 or so, with the help of Pagemaker and the laserwriter, which started the DestopPublishing Revolution. Then they made more mistakes, Jobs got thrown out and the company's marketshare dwindled to Windows.

Then Jobs came back, introduced the iMac and it's been an uptic every since.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:48 PM on November 5, 2007

Anyone that remembers Apple of the mid-90s before Jobs returned would tell you of an Apple that was dangerously close to becoming totally irrelevant in the wider technology landscape. Those were hard times. So I don't really think it's fair to say that the glory 80s Apple ][ years had anything to do with their current level of success. If Jobs hadn't ousted Amelio they would still probably be a laughing stock and butt of all those "accelerate your Mac at 9.8 meters per second squared!" jokes that were all the rage in the mid 90s. mikeh's point about OS X and the iPod in 2001 is probably the best indicator of when things really started to turn around, not the 80s.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:58 PM on November 5, 2007

Apple's perceived popularity has always been disproportional to its market share. Considering all of the press they get, it's hard to believe that they only control 6% (or less) of the personal computer market.

"Apple's share of the U.S. PC market in the third quarter [2007] was 6.3%...Worldwide it has just over 3% of the PC market."*
posted by ericb at 1:08 PM on November 5, 2007

Another vote for iPods.
posted by pompomtom at 1:15 PM on November 5, 2007

Can't believe no one's mentioned Steven Levy's Hackers, which IMO is one of the most realistic and respectful portrayals of the history of computing and hackerdom in the US. Granted, what you'll find in that book is mostly the history of Apple, particularly that of the Steves building the company from scratch.

However, learning about that history, grokking concepts such as the Hands-On Imperative and others of the Hacker Ethic will help you understand better the place the company is right now.

I don't think I'll link to a copy out there, but it should be easy to find in, e.g., IRC.
posted by papafrita at 2:18 PM on November 5, 2007

sorry, didn't mean to imply that "hackers" is mostly about apple; rather, that what you'll find about apple is essentially the history of its origins. and "hackers" is an amazing book, with the potential to blow one's mind.
posted by papafrita at 2:21 PM on November 5, 2007

Also, Apple's share of the (much more visible) domestic laptop market has grown to 17.6%. In my view this started in 2001 with the first brushed metal powerbook and the first white iBook.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 2:25 PM on November 5, 2007

A lot of people are saying "Ipod", which I agree with, but can you expand on that? Why did the Ipod become so much more popular than other DAP solutions and how did Apple contribute to that success?

That really seems like it would explain their current (scarily healthy) stock price, even if they aren't dominant in a general sense.
posted by selfnoise at 2:37 PM on November 5, 2007

Why did the Ipod become so much more popular than other DAP solutions

Easy - iTunes.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:13 PM on November 5, 2007

Good design : not "great" design, but "wow, that looks so much cooler than everything else" design. Whatever else you think of them, the original iPod design was iconic. For a start, it wasn't made of black plastic...

Good UI : again, not a "great" UI, but much better than anything else had at the time, or even now. Not the look of it, but the structure - actions and options placed just where they're the most logical & usable. On top of that, the controls were both innovative and sensible - the click wheel, with its "menu - pause - back - forwards" and "spin for up / down" makes perfect sense, and is much cooler and simpler than fumbling for buttons.

iTunes / iTMS : yup, iTunes sucks on Windows - but, you have to admit, they got the recipe right with the iTMS. They knew their market, they launched with the right range of music, they priced it right (would people have paid $1/song?), they made it free enough that you could use it to replace CDs, and iTunes bundled it all up in a simple one-stop shop.

(Note that some of this is starting to fray around the edges in current incarnations - particularly, video handling in iTunes is a poor relation to music in almost every respect.)

Sure, there's other players with more features, or priced less - but there's still nothing as user (or consumer) friendly as the iPod. Coolness and ease-of-use beat out "No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame." in the end...
posted by Pinback at 3:19 PM on November 5, 2007

OS X and the switch to Intel made it a much more appealing alternative to Windows. Over the past five years I had been experimenting with Linux on the desktop and it was never quite there, so I was stuck with Windows. Mac OS 9 and earlier were just tragic and on crippled hardware to boot. I bought a MacBook about 18 months ago and haven't looked back!

I think a number of software developers have the same story.
posted by PuGZ at 3:59 PM on November 5, 2007

Why did the Ipod become so much more popular than other DAP solutions

iTunes is a convenient, user-friendly, end-to-end, and completely closed system. You can't buy music from any other DSP (excepting the ones that sell MP3s at this point) for your ipod and you can't put music purchased at the itunes store on anything other than an ipod.

The other DSPs went with a Microsoft solution called PlaysForSure, which, much to the amusement of all writers looking for a cheap headline, does not work nearly as seamlessly as the ipod/itunes system.

Rhapsody recently released the Sansa, and theres the Zune, but other than that, having the open system has been the kiss of death for the hardware-software loop.

Other than that, n+1ing the "get 'em while they're young" marketing to educational institutions starting in elementary school, the return of steve, and a very smart marketing department that creates iconography from their products that are easily recognized and a status symbol. Other companies dont focus as much on design-as-icon. This goes all the way back to Sad Mac.
posted by softlord at 5:12 PM on November 5, 2007

Microsoft invested a lot of money in Apple in the 90's

It was only $150 million (a tiny fraction of Apple's market cap even in those troubled times) and it was in non-voting stock to avoid antitrust concerns. (The DOJ apparently investigated Microsoft anyway.) Keep in mind that Apple had just got done paying $400 million for NeXT and still had plenty of cash.

There were some reports that Microsoft also gave Apple a substantially larger sum to clear up some legal disputes and to cross-license some patents. Part of this deal was also to make Internet Explorer and Office for Macintosh for the next ten years (in return, IE would be the default Mac browser).

The Office commitment, which has now expired, probably helped Apple more than the $150 million, but Apple's subsequent product introductions (first the iMac and then the iPod) had a lot more to do with Apple's resurgence than anything Microsoft did.

Microsoft later sold that block of stock at a handsome profit, of course.
posted by kindall at 5:12 PM on November 5, 2007

You're only as good as your last 100-day moving average. Apple schmoozes influencers like Steven Levy, Walt Mossberg, and David Pogue with unbelievable attention. Mainstream media can rarely express more than two dimensions to any issue and so, with PCs, since the elimination of other non-mainstream OS/hardware brands after the 1980s, the consumption narrative of Windows=bland and Apple=cool is an easy sell for editors and producers. Apple almost lost the cool market entirely during the late-90s but no other company was able to consistently establish a sufficiently sadomasochistic fetish-like arrangement with their consumers as Apple under Jobs (this man knows how to make pain feel so good). Even under Jobs's most recent reign, there have been periods of lull... some of the follow-up imacs bombed, for instance, as did the cube. Only three years ago, for instance, people were saying things like If He's So Smart...Steve Jobs, Apple, and the Limits of Innovation. Now that Apple's shares are high, it gets a free pass from most MSM analysts. See also: Enron.
posted by meehawl at 6:15 PM on November 5, 2007

In my universe, return of Jobs --> the iMac. OS X wasn't much of a ripple because Mac users were already on board for the most part and Windows users didn't know/care.
posted by loiseau at 8:00 PM on November 5, 2007

My thought is that the iMac put Apple back into the public eye, and the iPod paved the way for the transformation we're seeing now with after the introduction of the Intel Mac. Lots of PC users got their first Apple product when they bought an iPod, and there was much talk about how the iPod would draw users from PC to Mac. (BTW, my experience is just the opposite of some here...when I was a Windows user, I found iTunes perfectly acceptable).

The Intel Mac made it much easier to switch. I love being able to use Windows on my MacBook Pro. I don't have much I need Windows for (just work stuff, actually, where I still use Windows), but when I need it, it's there and it works great.

Scott Kelby, in his pre-Intel (2002) Mac book "The Naked Truth," argues that Apple's market share is meaningless; only profits count, and Apple has been consistently profitable, often more so than big-market-share PC companies such as HP and Dell.
posted by lhauser at 8:22 PM on November 5, 2007

May have missed it, and this may be incorrect, but didn't the whole popularity thing garner momentum with Graphics Designers and Desktop Publishing?

I recall seeing my first Apple // around the '84 mark - anyone else remember Broderbunds Choplifter? - then the Mac and the arrival of the 'Lisa' for business - which didn't do well I believe... then it was all "oh you want an Apple to do anything involving graphics..." ?
posted by DrtyBlvd at 12:40 AM on November 6, 2007

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