Monday, November 05, 2007

Wired's predictions for Apple

Back in 1997, Wired Magazine ran the article "101 Ways to Save Apple", listing what their editors felt would be best for Apple, its shareholders and its customers. This past year, Wired points out that a few of the predictions almost exactly matched what Apple ended up doing, calling themselves "oddly prescient".

Well, five predictions out of 101 are hardly an indicator of prescience. With that in mind, let's investigate the rest of them. For those who don't want to read my 101 comments (this will be a long post), here's my summary of the 101 predictions:

Correct: 24
Incorrect: 38
Debatable: 25
Inconsequential: 10
I don't know: 2

Note: Correct/Incorrect simply refers to whether Apple actually followed the recommendation. It has nothing to do with how good or bad the suggestion might be. Also note that many of the "incorrect" recommendations are ones that were obviously intended as jokes.

  1. Admit it. You're out of the hardware game.. Obviously incorrect. Apple didn't quit the game. They came back with a vengeance and are now the third-largest computer manufacturer (only behind Dell and HP).
  2. License the Apple name/technology to appliance manufacturers and build GUIs. Nope. Apple did nothing of the sort. While Apple does some licensing (like the "made for iPod" logo), Apple's name, logo and products are all strictly in-house.
  3. Start pampering independent software vendors. Debatable. While some key vendors have definitely been pampered, most are just as much on their own as always.
  4. Gil Amelio should steal a page from Lee Iacocca's book. Debatable. Well, Amelio didn't forgo a salary, but Jobs still works for a token $1 annual salary. Of course, he does have massive amounts of stock, so he's hardly forgoing compensation.
  5. Straighten out the naming convention. Correct. All those confusing model numbers were dropped in favor of a few easy-to-remember names (iMac, eMac, mini, etc.) Within a series, the distinguishing features are all easy-to-manage concepts like screen size and CPU speeds.
  6. Apologize. Inconsequential. Apple didn't apologize, but they didn't have to. They revamped the product lines into something people wanted to buy, which is far far better.
  7. Don't disappear from the retail chains. Correct. In addition to the Apple Stores, Apple also set up the "store in a store" concept in the now-defunct CompUSA, and is currently doing the same thing at Best Buy and a few other major retail chains.
  8. Buy a song. Inconsequential. I'm not even sure what Wired was suggesting with this one.
  9. Fire the people who forecast product demand. Debatable. I have no idea who was fired, but Apple doesn't seem to suffer from the massive backlogs that they once had to deal with. They seem to have solved this problem, but probably not in the suggested way.
  10. Get a great image campaign. Correct. Starting with "Think Different", and then the iPod campaign, and several others, Apple has definitely taken this advise heart.
  11. Instead of trying to protect your multicolored ass all the time, try looking forward. Correct. Under Jobs, Apple has become highly innovative. So much so that they now take criticism for not doing what everybody else does.
  12. Build a fire under your ad agency. Debatable. They've definitely change the character of their ads, but they don't focus on geeky details either. The focus is on what you can do with the whole system, not on raw MHz and prices.
  13. Exploit every Wintel user's secret fear Inconsequential. Apple never ran this kind of campaign, but the Wintel world change enough that DOS-isms became a non-issue anyway.
  14. Do something creative with the design of the box and separate yourselves from the pack. Correct. The iMac started this ball rolling, and it doesn't look like it's slowing down any time soon.
  15. Dump (or outsource) the Newton, eMate, digital cameras, and scanners. Correct. They did.
  16. Take better care of your customers. Correct. Apple ranks top among customer satisfaction surveys. And high-ups in the company often bend over backwards to compensate those customers that, for some reason, can't get satisfaction through normal channels.
  17. Build some decent applications. Debatable. Yes, they built some incredible software (iLife, iWork, Final Cut Studio, etc.), but these are not targetting the business community (what Wired was suggesting.) Apple has played up to their strengths (media/content creation) instead of trying to shoehorn in on Microsoft's monopoly.
  18. Stop being buttoned-down corporate. Correct. And the fan-base bears this out, as predicted.
  19. Get rid of the cables. Correct. Although cables are not completely eliminated, they are optional for all but power and video these days, thanks to WiFi and BlueTooth being standard is most devices.
  20. Tap the move toward push media. Incorrect. Not even close, here.
  21. Sell yourself to IBM or Motorola. Incorrect. Never happened. Never will happen, especially now that Intel supplies the chipsets
  22. Create a new kids' computer. Incorrect. Didn't happen.
  23. Create a new logo. Debatable. The colored stripes were dropped, but the logo itself is more prominent than ever.
  24. Pay cartoonist Scott Adams $10 million. Incorrect. I assume Wired wasn't even close to serious about this one.
  25. Portables, portables, portables. Debatable. Apple took the lead in laptops. The iPhone and iPod Touch may someday dominate the smart-phone/PDA markets when third-party software development becomes possible, but that hasn't happened yet. The iPod dominates it's market, but that market was previously a failure, not dominated by Wintel or anyone else.
  26. If you sell it, make it! Debatable. Apple doesn't usually have massive shortages, but they also won't refuse to release a product, waiting for the factories to ramp-up to match peak demand. iPhones and iPods have both had shortages in some models, soon after releases.
  27. Relocate the company. Debatable. Apple is still a California company, but manufacturing is now in China.
  28. Don't lose your sense of humor. Inconsequential. I don't think it was ever lost, but others will disagree. I don't think it ever mattered.
  29. Work closely with Hewlett-Packard. Incorrect. Apple's power management has gotten much better over the years, but not as a result of partnering with anyone.
  30. Reach forward by reaching back. Incorrect. Apple has secured the harts and wallets of students, but they did it by making products powerful and "cool", not by issuing loans.
  31. Build a PDA for less than $250 Debatable. The iPhone is clearly the kind of PDA Wired was talking about, but it only sports one of their three key features, and it costs much more than $250.
  32. Advice to Gil Amelio: shorter speeches, tighter pants. Inconsequential. Gil's gone. Steve seems to get along very well with 2-3 hour product presentations
  33. Change the visual presentation of marketing/advertising to signal that real change is under way. Correct. While I'm not privy to Marketing's reports, Steve's presentations almost always begin with a rundown of market penetration, along with predictions for the future.
  34. Port the OS to the Intel platform Debatable. Yes, Apple went Intel, but they still don't support commodity PC hardware. Mac OS-compatible systems still must be purchased from Apple, no matter where the processor comes from. Apple chose Intel because they couldn't get fast-enough chips from Motorola and IBM, not out of any desire to support the installed base of PC hardware.
  35. Get MkLinux and BeOS to run on PowerBooks. Inconsequential. These operating systems were ported, but not by Apple, and it didn't do a thing to help Apple's corporate health.
  36. Clone the PowerBook. Incorrect. Never happened, never will.
  37. Take advantage of NeXT's easy and powerful OpenStep. Correct. Not only did they embrace OpenStep's tools, they bought NeXT corporation and based the entire OS on NeXTStep.
  38. Make it easier for ISVs to make applications for both Apple and Wintel environments. Not really. Apple has embraced web standards, but cross-platform application development requires third-party tools. Apple has ported some of their libraries to Windows, but they're only used internally (e.g. for the Windows version of iTunes). ISV's can't use them.
  39. Build a laptop that weighs 2 pounds. Incorrect. Apple has never shipped a laptop this light. I'm sure they'd love to ship a product this light, but only a subnotebook could pull it off and there are no signs (other than unconfirmed rumors) that they are even trying to develop a subnotebook of any kind.
  40. Cash in on millennium fever. Correct. From the iMac to the iPod to the iLife apps, Apple often sacrifices flexibility for simplicity. And the market has responded very positively.
  41. Arrange venture funding. Incorrect. Although Apple did make massive strides forward in terms of multimedia production and publication, they did not do it by investing in other companies. They bought existing companies or developed product in-house.
  42. Organize a telethon. Incorrect. This looks like another joke-prediction.
  43. Remain committed to the openDVD Consortium. Incorrect. Apple belongs to many standards bodies, but they aren't really driving any of the tech. They ship other vendors' drives and support existing/emerging standards. Apple's focus here isn't to develop DVD tech, but to make it accessible to the masses.
  44. Continue your research in voice recognition. Incorrect. Apple didn't go this route, and it doesn't seem to have hurt them. Video conferencing and remote access are very popular without voice recognition.
  45. Don't raise the Mac OS licensing fee. Inconsequential. Apple eliminated clones altogether, so the licensing fee is really a moot point. Everyone thought it was crazy to kill the clones, but history showed that clones were eating away at the lucrative high-end profits, and did not fill in the commodity low-end.
  46. Stop wasting time on frivolities like Spartacus, the 20th-anniversary Mac. Correct. While there are some special edition devices these days, they are the traditional devices with new paint jobs, not entirely new products.
  47. Work on ways to make your lower-end models truly upgradable. Incorrect. The low-end models are more closed than ever before. There are no user-upgradable parts to a mini, and anything beyond a RAM upgrade is pretty painful. Anyone trying to replace a hard drive on an iBooks knows all about this.
  48. Get Ben & Jerry's to name a flavor after you. Incorrect. Another joke entry
  49. Bring back Andy Hertzfeld. Debatable. The original engineers didn't come back, but Jobs did. Some of Wired's suggestions remained in Mac OS. Others (like the lack of file-extensions) didn't.
  50. Give Steve Jobs as much authority as he wants in new product development. Correct. I think CEO is about as much authority as you can give.
  51. Speak to the consumer. Correct. Apple's current strategy is definitely designing and marketing to the users, not IT departments. Which is why they're very popular at home and in school, but not in corporations.
  52. Return to the heady days of yore by insisting that Steve Jobs regrow his beard. Inconsequential. Really.
  53. Recharge your strategy for Europe Debatable. They've revamped their European strategy, but they revamped their strategy everywhere.
  54. Sell off the laser printer business. Correct. I don't think they sold it off, but they don't make printers anymore, so the effect is the same.
  55. Give the company that buys the printer business a contract. Incorrect. There are no Apple-branded printers anymore, so obviously, no contract was given.
  56. Stick to your schedule. Debatable. Apple has generally stuck to schedules, but with some slippage. But definitely nothing like the frequently-hyped and frequently-delayed/frequently-cancelled Copeland/Rhapsody software. Today, Apple doesn't pre-announce anything, so you can be sure you'll be able to buy stuff that they talk about.
  57. Bring back John Sculley. Incorrect. Apple needs no whipping boy when they're selling product.
  58. Create dollar incentives to attract software vendors. Incorrect. I don't think Apple did anything like this.
  59. Invest heavily in Newton technology Debatable. Newton, as a name and a trademark, is dead and buried, but much of its core tech has made its way into Mac OS and into the iPhone. Voice is not used anywhere. Gestures are used in the iPhone. Handwriting recognition seems to be missing. Multi-Touch is where it's at now, but that doesn't seem to be based on anything from Newton.
  60. Abandon the Mach operating system you just acquired and run Windows NT kernel instead. Incorrect. The exact opposite is what Apple ended up doing.
  61. Ink a promotion/development deal with Shaquille O'Neal Debatable. There was no Shaq-Mac promo, but there have been special edition iPods (like the U2 edition.)
  62. Build a computer that doesn't crash. Correct. Although Macs do occasionally crash, kernel panics are very rare (unless there are hardware problems, of course.) Applications still crash, but they usually don't take out the OS. (To be fair, modern Windows systems very rarely kernel panic either these days.)
  63. Make Java work on your OS. Debatable. Java is definitely a key part of Mac OS X, but it's a second-class citizen. And it is definitely not the focus of an enterprise computing strategy with Sun or anyone else.
  64. Team up with Sony. Debatable. There has been no Apple-Sony computer, but the two companies work closely together on many other things, like disk drives, cameras, and other media products.
  65. Roll out the Mac Plus again as a hip retro machine. Incorrect. Some may argue that the iMac/eMac fit this category, but I don't think so.
  66. Get the top systems integrators to push NeXT's WebObjects Debatable. Apple does push WebObjects all over Mac OS and the iPhone. I don't think this has spread to other platforms, though.
  67. Tighten the focus on your publishing niche. Incorrect. This is most definitely Microsoft and Adobe's niche. iWeb and the iWork suite are recent forays in this direction, but it is far from domination.
  68. Retain your Apple Fellows at all costs. I have no clue about this one.
  69. Change your name to Snapple. Incorrect. Another joke.
  70. Simplify your PC product line. Correct. Five product lines, with only minor differences within each line is much simpler than what came before.
  71. Become a graphic design company. Incorrect. It simple didn't happen
  72. Try the industry-standard serial port plug. Correct. OK, Apple didn't switch to standard serial ports - they dropped serial ports altogether. But they did (eventually) go with standard ports for most of the important ones: USB, FireWire, Ethernet, audio, DVI, etc. There have been some exceptions where necessary to make everything fit in a small space (e.g. mini-DVI), but for the most part, today's ports are standard.
  73. Rename the company Papaya. Incorrect. These joke-recommendations are really becoming annoying.
  74. Solidify the management team. Debatable. There have been many shake-ups. Getting rid of people isn't bad, as long as you're careful about who you get rid of.
  75. Speed sells. Debatable. This is the main reason Apple switched to Intel processors - Motorola and IBM were unwilling to develop the kind of high-speed/low-power processors needed to move Macs. Intel did, and the results have been phenomenal. I have this entry listed as "debatable" because the Wired article uses this bullet as a reason to promote PowerPC over Intel, which definitely did not happen. (At least not in the long term - some PPC chips, like the G5, did create temporary bursts in sales, but IBM never kept up with their product improvements.)
  76. Make damn sure that Rhapsody runs on an Intel chip. Debatable. Rhapsody is dead. OS X runs on Intel, but on Intel Macs, not on PCs. Mac apps don't run on Windows and probably never will.
  77. Lose the cybercaf├ęs idea. I have no idea what they're talking about here. Maybe someone can refresh my memory?
  78. Turn Claris loose. Debatable. FileMaker is independent, but hardly market-dominating. AppleWorks for Windows was developed, and was mostly ignored. So Apple (sort of) took this advice, but it didn't help much.
  79. Exploit your advantage in the K-12 education market. Debatable. I think they're doing this, but the K-12 market now has complaints that the new systems can't run their 10-year-old Mac software! I see this market as a no-win situation for Apple. But the advice is still correct - they need to remain strong in that market.
  80. Maintain existing loyalty at all costs. Debatable. In some cases, they did. In other cases, they have deliberately abandoned features while people were still using them. Apple wants loyalty, but they want loyalty to the new future products, not to the old stuff that's on its way out.
  81. Merge with Sega. Incorrect. As a matter of fact, Sega has abandoned game consoles and is now just a software company.
  82. Give the first Apple made exclusively for Windows a cheeky name. Inconsequential. Mac OS for commodity PCs (or Apple hardware for Windows) never happened and probably never will.
  83. Develop proprietary programs that run only on Macs. Crow about them. Correct. iLife, iWork, FinalCut, etc.
  84. Effectively communicate your game plan. Correct. Apple doesn't talk about much future development, but they are very clear and accurate with what they do disclose.
  85. Quit making each Mac in a platform-specific case, with platform-specific parts. Incorrect. While each line (mini, iMac, MacBook, etc.) has a uniform case, the lines are very different from each other. And they change every few years. Upgradeability varies from model to model, but most can't be upgraded beyond RAM expansion without performing major surgery.
  86. Organize a very large bake sale. Incorrect. Yet another joke.
  87. Price the CPUs to sell. Correct. The iMac quickly established $800 as an entry price-point, that was maintained by the eMac. Today's mini, at its $600 price maintains the tradition. And these low-end systems are quite powerful, so you're not settling for junk (unlike low-end PCs).
  88. Acknowledge that there are people with repetitive stress injuries. Incorrect. Apple still doesn't sell special ergonomic parts. On the other hand, since commodity keyboards are supported, it's no big deal to get a Microsoft Natural keyboard if you really want one.
  89. Create a chemical that cleans the Mac's pale gray plastic Inconsequential. Apple abandoned beige plastic cases altogether. Some of the new designs retain their looks very well (and some don't, unfortunately.)
  90. Design a desktop model - call it La Dolce Vita - with a built-in cappuccino maker. Incorrect. Yet another joke. I get the impression that the Wired editors were running out of ideas...
  91. Start a new special projects group. Correct. Although Apple is tight-lipped about their internal development, it is quite clear that products like the iPod and iPhone were developed by groups like this.
  92. With each new Mac, include a CD-ROM that explains the Apple family tree and future plans. Incorrect. Didn't happen. Apple doesn't discuss future plans. And any such CD would be out of data by the time it shipped, anyway - that's what web sites are for.
  93. Develop a way to program that requires no scripting or coding. Debatable. Automator comes pretty darn close, but it's limited in what it can do. I don't know if this problem, as written, even can be solved.
  94. Maintain differentiation between Wintel and Apple. Inconsequential. This recommendation assumes some porting of Apple's tech to Windows, which never really happened (at least not in any form third-party developers can use.)
  95. Fight back. Incorrect. Apple ignores criticism and chooses to "fight back" by shipping great products that people want to buy. Let the critics say what they want - the best way to defeat them is to prove them wrong.
  96. Partner with Oracle Incorrect. Didn't happen.
  97. Have Pixar make 3001, A Space Odyssey, with HAL replaced by a Mac. Incorrect. Another joke.
  98. Testimonials.. Correct. See the "switch" campaign.
  99. Reincorporate as a nonprofit research foundation. Incorrect. Never happened.
  100. Build a second graphics/video product based on the connection with Pixar. Incorrect, as far as we know. Perhaps the rumored "asteroid" product might be such a device, but so far no such thing has been developed.
  101. Don't worry. You'll survive. It's Netscape we should really worry about. Inconsequential. As it turns out, Netscape is gone.

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