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Thursday, September 21, 2006

When Apple Hit Bottom Sound Familiar ?

When Apple Hit Bottom Sound Familiar ?

As you probably know, Apple’s been in the news quite a bit lately. (That’s “lately,” as in, “pretty much every other month for the last five years.”)

Nowadays, Apple is a media darling. The critics like the company’s direction, and so does Wall Street.

But it wasn’t always so. This summer marked the tenth anniversary of Apple’s lowest point–a time in 1996 when the company’s profits and products were hitting bottom. (Steve Jobs’s return to the company he founded was still a year away.)

Not only was Apple NOT a media darling, it was the dog the media loved to kick. The analysts and columnists were amazingly confident that Apple would not live out the year, let alone the decade.

With a little help from the Lexis-Nexis database of all articles from all major publications, it’s my pleasure to present, for your nostalgia pleasure, some of their predictions from ten years ago:

* Fortune, 2/19/1996: “By the time you read this story, the quirky cult company…will end its wild ride as an independent enterprise.”

* Time Magazine, 2/5/96: “One day Apple was a major technology company with assets to make any self respecting techno-conglomerate salivate. The next day Apple was a chaotic mess without a strategic vision and certainly no future.”

* BusinessWeek, 10/16/95: “Having underforecast demand, the company has a $1 billion-plus order backlog….The only alternative: to merge with a company with the marketing and financial clout to help Apple survive the switch to a software-based company. The most likely candidate, many think, is IBM Corp.”

* A Forrester Research analyst, 1/25/96 (quoted in, of all places, The New York Times): “Whether they stand alone or are acquired, Apple as we know it is cooked. It’s so classic. It’s so sad.”

* Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft’s chief technology officer, 6/97: “The NeXT purchase is too little too late. Apple is already dead.”

* Wired, “101 Ways to Save Apple,” 6/97: “1. Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game.”

* BusinessWeek, 2/5/96: “There was so much magic in Apple Computer in the early ’80s that it is hard to believe that it may fade away. Apple went from hip to has-been in just 19 years.”

* Fortune, 2/19/1996: “Apple’s erratic performance has given it the reputation on Wall Street of a stock a long-term investor would probably avoid.”

* The Economist, 2/23/95: “Apple could hang on for years, gamely trying to slow the decline, but few expect it to make such a mistake. Instead it seems to have two options. The first is to break itself up, selling the hardware side. The second is to sell the company outright.”

* The Financial Times, 7/11/97: “Apple no longer plays a leading role in the $200 billion personal computer industry. ‘The idea that they’re going to go back to the past to hit a big home run…is delusional,’ says Dave Winer, a software developer.”

Now, obviously, all of these commentators were wildly, hilariously, embarrassingly wrong. (Unless, of course, the iPod is in fact a mass delusion.)

This is why, when anyone asks me what the future of technology holds, or what kids will be bringing to school in 2016, I politely decline to answer. v

In the end, this story really isn’t about Apple–or any one company; they all have ups and downs. This story is about the journalists and commentators. It’s one thing to report what’s happening to a flailing company, and quite another to announce what’s *going* to happen. In the technology business, that’s a fool’s game.



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