It’s hard to remember a time when Apple was a basket case -- but as a longtime Apple fan, I remember when Apple was a subject of acquisition rumors. Dell CEO Michael Dell famously called the company unsalvagable. This was during Apple’s worst period, from 1991 to 1997.
In 1996, then-Apple CEO Gil Amelio negotiated a deal to buy NeXT, the computer startup run by Steve Jobs. Instead, Jobs staged a boardroom coup and took help from Apple’s archrival, Microsoft.
Though Apple first released the iMac, which became a huge hit in 1998, the linchpin in Apple’s recovery was the iPod, released in 2001. The iPod, introduced just a month after 9/11, got off to a slow start because it cost $399 and initially only worked with Macs. Apple’s decision this week to discontinue the iPod after about 22 years, is a reminder of Apple’s stunning comeback and inspiration to marketers everywhere.
Apple introduced the iTunes Music Store in 2003 and started selling songs at 99 cents each. By 2004, Jobs was heading Project Purple at Apple, an initiative that eventually led to the iPhone and the iPad.
Jobs, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, died on Oct. 5, 2011.
Though Apple’s comeback was a rare example, there are a few things to learn from it:
• Apple didn’t just compete on one level, it competed on many. If Apple had focused on making the Mac the default for PC users, it likely would have failed. The Mac’s share of the PC market in 2022 is still 8.9%, which is a vast improvement over the 2.7% in 1998, but Apple instead launched new categories (smartphones, tablets) and continues to dominate those segments.
• Apple anticipated new markets. Apple introduced Apple TV in 2006. Many other entrants have come along since then, but Apple TV’s 5.6% share in February 2022 is above Peacock’s and just below HBO Max’s.
It should be noted that much of this innovation happened before Jobs died. Apple has upgraded its Mac, iPhone and Apple TV lineups in the past few years, but hasn’t introduced any new products on the level of the iPod.