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It's rumoured Steve Jobs left a roadmap stretching ahead for at least four more years. Photo / Thinkstock
It's rumoured Steve Jobs left a roadmap stretching ahead for at least four more years. Photo / Thinkstock

We seem to have established a position on Apple. Actually, two positions, with seemingly little middle ground between them. Why agree to differ when we can just differ? Delete the words in the square brackets you think don't apply, and we will [sort of/never] be on the same page:

Apple Corporate: Apple started out as [an innovative/an accomplished copyist] company that immediately shook up the nascent computing world back in the late 1970s, due either to effrontery or to genuine acumen and farsightedness. Apple introduced the first mass-produced mouse and made the graphic user interface into an acceptable way to use a personal computer, thanks to the pioneering work of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre and indeed to many ex-PARC staffers who moved over to Apple.

After a fall from favour, having pioneered the introduction of many personal computing conventions, interfaces and techniques that most people accept on almost all platforms these days, Steve Jobs came back to the company he had co-founded in the mid 1980s and began to turn Apple's fortunes around, thanks in part to some help from Bill Gates and Microsoft.

Microsoft had, by the way, collaborated to some extent with Apple back in the 1980s and Gates actually featured on a 1984 promotional brochure for the first Macintosh-named Apple computer.

After the success of Jobs' all-in-one Mac computer the G3 iMac (1998), featuring internet connectivity out of the box (hence the initial 'i-') and USB ports, Apple started to climb back, at least with former Apple users returning happily to the platform.

Soon after, Apple [appropriated/innovated] the iPod, a small device for playing MP3-format digital sound files. This did for digital music what Sony's Walkman had done for the cassette.

Englishman Jonathan Ive, now head of Apple's Human Interface Design, had been involved in both these products. The iPod was significant as suddenly, people who would not or did not buy Apple computers were seen listening to iPods. While there were other music players, iPod rapidly achieved a dramatic dominance, thanks to good marketing and good build quality. iPods had the 'want it' factor. Soon after, Apple introduced the iTunes Store, having done deals with various record labels, and in a way this was an extension of Apple's [contentious/enlightened] policy of vertical product integration: supplying a complete solution to consumers. For example, if you bought a PC, at least in the early days, you could then choose which operating system you put on it, but with Apple, you bought the computer and Apple's OS was preinstalled on it. There was no other choice, and you had to buy Mac OS-compatible software for it, too.

Although you could put pretty much any digital music file on an iPod, as long as you got it into a suitable format, if you wanted to buy music digitally there was little alternative to Apple's iTunes Store. This model has been mirrored numerous times by Apple, and is referred to as the Walled Garden or Apple Ecosystem, upsetting those into 'consumer choice' but pleasing those who appreciate seamless integration ... if they don't mind paying for it.

And things ticked along like this for a while, with Apple's public profile steadily rising.

Then, though, Apple made another Big Move by introducing the iPhone. Starting out as Project Purple, a team that included Jonathan Ive, in 2004. The concept has been toyed with at Apple since at least the late 1980s. A phone had certainly been on Steve Jobs' mind, and indeed some models of the Newton (an Apple Portable Digital Assistant, 1987-1998) appear to have had some phone componentry that was never enabled.

The iPhone [stigmatised/revolutionised] Apple by giving consumers a pocketable all-in-one device with very few buttons and most functionality via its touch-screen interface.

Apple did not invent the smartphone concept. IBM had a prototype smartphone back in 1992, and this ended up as the 1994 Simon Personal Communicator introduced by Bellsouth. Nokia did something like it in 1996 with the 9000, and Swedish company Ericsson (later absorbed by Sony) coined the 'smartphone' name with 1997 GS 88. Smartphone sales were, however, a tiny proportion of the cell phone market.

Apple undeniably made the smartphone both attractive and usable; I'm pretty sure all you Samsung and other smartphone fans can appreciate just how much is owed to iPhone. And if you don't agree, take a look at these before and after pictures and perhaps you might see my point. Notice I have not used the word 'copy'. Oh, woops. Anyway, smartphone sales rose dramatically everywhere.

To bays of 'Apple did not invent the tablet!' Apple then introduced the iPad. No, Apple did not invent the tablet. Hear me? Apple just, once again, made it attractive and usable. There was an immediate impact on tablet sales once the iPad was introduced April 3, 2010, a date I will always remember.

The iPad shared the iPhone's operating system, and back then I reviewed it as 'a useless device you'll hardly ever put down'. Things have changed with acceptance, more power and more features, including security and Exchange support, making it much more acceptable to enterprise. Nowadays banks, trucking firms, vineyards and even the NZ Police are using them for data entry and retrieval. In 2010, the year of the first iPad (and the model I still have) 16 million tablets were sold, a figure that includes non-Apple devices. In 2012, 86.6 million tablets were sold.

Meanwhile, laptop sales were declining, and many PC companies also saw damaging sales losses. The tablet and smartphone space has largely turned into a battle between Google Android and Apple powered tablets, with honourable mentions to readers like the Kindle, whereas the impact of Microsoft's effort has not yet been realised. But tablet sales are widely expected to rise further.

However, after years of defying sales odds (ie, The Recession) Apple's computer sales are also starting to suffer. If it's true (I'm not sure of the exactitudes) that iPads ate into netbook, and then PC, sales, this is now also happening to Apple's own line, with professionals increasingly disenchanted with Apple's antics and the failure to introduce a new Pro machine. Sales are also down among the consumer machines. For me, possibly the most serious threat to Apple is the ire of professional users. They have been the steadfast bedrock of the company - and its most consistent advocates - for decades.

So after such dramatic introductions, market shakeups and sales, Apple now looks like it's reached another crossroads. With Steve Jobs gone and the company run by a number cruncher, there's a huge amount of money in Apple's bank, a towering pile of expectation to deal with and the once quiet Jony Ive nowadays seems to be doing more talking than designing.

Some senior and significant figures have left Apple. Stock dividends get paid out now (banished under Jobs) but the stock price suffered after analysts inflated the last quarterly profit figures, despite their being extremely healthy, as I pointed out last Mac Planet.

Apple is about to [fail/rise/carry on without much fuss], since it's rumoured Steve Jobs left a roadmap stretching ahead for at least four more years.

So that's where we are now. Agreed?

- NZ Herald

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