So no-one’s buying Apple Computer Inc (CI No 3,283). Despite all the rumors and scuttlebutt and semi-hysteria, Interim Apple chief executive and co-founder Steve Jobs did not come out on stage in a theater near Apple’s Cupertino HQ Monday to announce that the game was up for the 21 year old company. Nonetheless, the hints that what he did have to say would end up on the front page of the newspaper the next day proved right. Some of us who checked out the Apple web site (http://www.apple.com) on Sunday found a set of mysterious icons that, had we known, would have saved us the trouble of the long commute down Highway 101 in El Nino-swollen November rains. But then one would have been spared the joy of hearing Mr Jobs lead the cheerleading. These symbolic new icons are a chocolate cookie, a shopping cart, and a screwdriver. Respectively, these signify a different kind of chip; a different kind of store; and a different kind of factory. The different trope is meant to tie in with the new Apple ad campaign, which features individualistic geniuses (Einstein, Edison, Picasso, Muhammed Ali) with the exhortation, Think Different.
By Gary Flood
Jobs, and the whole Apple marketing machine, used Monday to kick off a program to show that it believes its own advice, announcing dramatic changes in the way it designs, builds and sells (some) of its computers. Specifically, the chip – which is of course the Power PC 750 microprocessor (CI No 3,239), though Apple is choosing to call it the more generic but allegedly snappier G3 (for third generation) – is the brain of the fastest Apple computers ever. Jobs, on excellent public speaking form as noted, dissed the Wintel opposition, specifically the Pentium II, the best the other side can offer, he jibed. The G3 is a third the size (67 versus 203 square millimeters, fact fans) and a seventh the power output (and hence the heat dissipation factor – 6 against 43 watts), but 44% faster at integer (4.24 versus 7.53) and 15% (5.0 against 5.74) at floating point calculations according to Bytemark benchmarks, he claims. In more concrete terms – using a metric designed to appeal to Apple’s constituency – using a 266 MHz G3 shaves nearly 200 seconds off a complex Adobe Systems Inc Photoshop 4.0 function (611.1 versus 814.5 seconds). Jobs and Apple contend this performance and speed advantage will be compelling enough to bring both corporate and home buyers back to the Apple brand – the new Powerbooks to be powered by the G3 will be twice as fast as today’s models, for example. The new G3 models will sell from $2,000 (desktop) to $2,450 (minitower) to $5,700 (portable).
So, if Apple has hot new computers, it is also got hot new ways of getting them in customers’ hands in time for the holidays (20,000 G3-based systems have been shipped to the channel). As noted (CI No 3,286) Apple has trimmed its channel partners but has decided to revamp its national retail presence. CompUSA has opened the first of what will be 54 in-store Apple areas (Jobs taking us on a virtual reality Quicktime tour of the first one), to be 150 by the end of January. But, as predicted, it will be through the web that Apple hopes to achieve the most sophisticated on-line e-commerce system available, with Apple Store, immediately up and running in North America and in Europe and Japan by next Spring. For those who snipe that Apple is simply copying Dell Computer Corp, Jobs had a snappy answer: for it was to NeXT Software Inc, Jobs’ old firm purchased by Apple in December of last year, that Dell came for the software to build its web shopping store, NeXT’s WebObjects, which ran perfectly well between July 1996 and September of this year, when a Microsoft solution was swapped in for political reasons. Now Next is part of Apple, of course, the implication is that the lessons learned will make the Apple version superior. Dell went from $0 to $750m in online sales using this system (CI No 3,264), says Jobs, or about 15% of all sales. The main unique selling point of the Apple version of web sales is that a customer is offered good, better, and best versions of products in the range, with a further option to fully customize the offering. Given that Apple ships about 10,000 computers a day, and has always had a reputation for a needlessly complex inventory, this won’t work unless there is a manufacturing system able to cope with it – which brings us to the third part of Jobs’ tripod, a build-to-order factory system (which will only in fact build G3-based systems to order, not the rest of the Apple product range). The three differences, then, add up to a way for Apple to deliver on its new mission statement: To build the best tools for people who think creatively. Will it work? The overall atmosphere in Cupertino was of an in-company sales meeting. Jobs was applauded to the echo about two sentences out of five by the fiercely loyal Apple staffers at the back of the facility.
And in true sales motivatory style, he even had his own 1984-style hate figure for us to boo, Michael Dell, who has suggested that if he were made Apple CEO he would close the company down and give the money back to the investors. (A wry remark in the press Q&A session after: Did you decide to demonize Michael Dell because you can’t do that to Bill Gates anymore?) The idea is that, to quote Jobs, Apple is not going to be second in operations and execution to anyone in this industry any more, with the prize being sought no longer the destruction of Microsoft, but the more realistic lesser goal of competing with Dell and Compaq in the PC buying community. Think Different may be ungrammatical English, but may prove to be just the right marketing slogan for Apple to stem the tide of disaster. Once again Jobs has shown in his four months as the world’s most visible temporary CEO that he is determined to make his Apple as different as he can to the ‘old’ Apple, in order to save it.