For Thanksgiving, Michael Arrington posted an article on TechCrunch entitled “What If Steve Jobs Hadn’t Returned To Apple In 1997?“.
The gist of the article is that Steve Jobs himself is responsible for every ounce of good stuff that Apple has ever done.
“Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. Traditionally we take stock of the things that we’re thankful for on this day each year. And I realized that one of those things is Steve Jobs.”
And it is complete, and utter, rubbish.
Well. Almost complete rubbish.
One thing this article does get right is the history of Apple’s acquisition of NeXT (Steve Jobs old company). At the time, Apple Computer (it used to be called that before Apple decided they didn’t want to be associated with “Computers” anymore and just became “Apple”) was attempting to purchase Be, inc. with the intention of using BeOS as the basis of the new MacOS (which would have, in all reality, made a much better technological and ideological fit for Apple).
At the end of 1996, as negotiations between Apple (headed by Gil Amelio) and Be (headed by Jean-Louis Gassée, the former head of Apple France) broke down, Apple changed its mind at the last minute and purchased NeXT. The result is that Nextstep became the basis for MacOS X.
And, time marching ever forward, Be inc. got purchased by Palm. And the BeOS faded away. (Though an open source implementation of BeOS called Haiku has been recently released in alpha form.)
That part of the history… the TechCruch article got right. Then it jumped off the tracks.
“In 1997 Apple had a snoozy product line that included the ill-fated Newton, the Performa, the Power Macintosh, the PowerBook a bunch of printers and a few servers.”
Are you freaking kidding me? Was Michael Arrington even alive in the mid-90’s?
The Newton was, for those who can remember back that far, revolutionary. It was a huge deal. The company had some serious problems with it (marketing being one of the big ones), but the devices (and the Newton OS that powered them) were many years ahead of their time. Case in point: it still holds up strangely well against a current iPhone (Newton’s had multi-tasking, etc. way back in the old days). And, of course, there was the eMate 300 (which was a Newton-powered laptop that featured a rechargeable battery that, I kid you not, lasted through 28 hours of continuous usage).
Mike’s list also leaves off the “20th Anniversary Mac“. Which was pretty stinking rad (and released the first week of 1997).
Problematic? Sure. But far, far, from “snoozy”. In fact, I’d go so far as to call these items “extremely impressive and way ahead of their time”.
“Fast Forward to today. Apple has the sexiest products in the business: iMacs, Macbooks, iPhones, iPods and more. Even the Mac Mini has a place in my home, powering my television.”
The iMac is the the PowerMac G3 All-In-One with a new case. A great machine. That, of course, being the machine that really got Apple back on track in the late 90’s. But the groundwork was laid by Jobs’ predecessor.
“They’ve accelerated the pace of change in the music, film and television industries as well with the iPod and iTunes. And they’ve redefined the mobile phone with the iPhone.”
Okay. “redefined the mobile phone with the iPhone”… kinda sounding like an over-the-top fanboy there, Mike.
“If Gassée, or anyone else, had become the CEO of Apple back in 1997, how many of these products would exist today?”
“How likely would the iPhone have been? And next year we’ll see an Apple Tablet computer. Does anyone think anyone but Steve Jobs would have pushed that product to market?”
Here’s the bit that really makes me doubt that Mike even has a slight clue about what was happening in the industry back in the mid to late 90’s.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, one of hist first acts as the i-CEO was to kill the Newton.
That’s right. The thing closest to a tablet. The thing closest to a phone and closest to an MP3 player. He killed it off.
Why, you ask? Well, it wasn’t a financial decision. The State of Texas was set to buy millions of eMates to replace text books for students. And the entire country of Australia was looking to replace their aging computer systems with eMates.
So the devices were way ahead of their time. And they were selling.
And, to date, Apple has not released a Tablet computer.
But, you know who has?
Be. inc. under the leadership of Gassée. They released a version of the BeOS called BeIA (Internet Appliance) and worked with Sony and Compaq to release tablets based on it. But, unfortunately, these were a few years too early (and too pricey).
You know who else? Apple Computer under the leadership of John Sculley, Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio (In the form of the Newton line of touch screen devices).
That’s right. Mike’s whole point seems to be that nobody but Steve Jobs would ever be awesome enough to release cool products like “Tablets” or “touch screen pda-like devices”. And that Jobs, himself, is responsible for the iMacs, etc.
And all of that is just plain wrong. Crazy, crazy wrong.
Steve Jobs is responsible for killing off many of the innovative (and successful) products and projects that Apple had going at the time. I think it’s a fair guess that, had Steve Jobs not returned to Apple, that Apple’s product line would be far more impressive by this point than it is (though, perhaps, with less glossy white plastic).
Steve Jobs has done plenty of good stuff. Feel free to write lots and lots of glowing articles about those things.
But please. I implore you. Do not re-write history just because you think Steve Jobs is pretty.