IT company of '98: Apple's return to the living

Whoopi Goldberg, Dolly Parton, Clint Eastwood, the Clintons and Gorbachov are just a few of the celebrities and world leaders that belong to the club. I'm not talking about Concorde's first class elite, but Apple customers.

Whoopi Goldberg, Dolly Parton, Clint Eastwood, the Clintons and Gorbachov are just a few of the celebrities and world leaders that belong to the club. I'm not talking about Concorde's first class elite, but Apple customers. The company has always held a cult status -- the same cannot be said about any other grey box shifter. Now Hollywood actor, Jeff Golblum, has been recruited to promote the iMac. The Apple brand is as powerful as ever.

Even if the company is not yet out of the woods, there are clear signs that the worst is over. After the grim spell that culminated with the resignation of Apple chairman Gil Amelio and the departure of chief technology officer Ellen Hancock, Apple once looked rotten to the core.

But 1998 has been a turn-around year. Shareholders finally saw the Cupertino firm become profitable in consecutive quarters (link to /news/news1/ns-4176.html). Apple culled its much-maligned Newton operating system -- certain death for products like the MessagePad and eMate. Like many of Apple products, the eMate sold well in niche sectors such as education, and was funky enough to catch the attention of kids and gadget junkies. But that did not justify further investment. However, Apple's ability to be innovative and imaginative has not died.

The G3 range has soared and the company is enjoying bumper iMac sales. Since the launch in August, the translucent teal machines have been flying out of high-street stores -- a quarter of a million machines were sold in the first six weeks after launch (link to /news/1998/50/ns-6454.html). A new version of its QuickTime multimedia software is due next month, new laptops weighing less than 4 pounds are due in the first half of 1999 and next-generation PowerBooks for corporates will be unveiled at Macworld Expo.

Stand-in boss Steve Jobs has managed to sit tight throughout the two-year, roller-coaster ride since he rejoined the company he co-founded, and his critics have mellowed somewhat. There's no doubt he'll have another roller-coaster year ahead of him, especially if he is to appease customers and shareholders and continue to turn the company around.

There's plenty to do, including a major software update and some new consumer products, but it's unlikely to be the kind of white-knuckle ride that has become part and parcel of the company's history. And lets not forget that predicting the demise of Apple has become a favourites pastime for almost two decades... now that's a hard habit to break.

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