Lacey: Apple Down, But Far From Out

Dark clouds are once again gathering over the most famous address in Silicon Valley. No 1 Infinite Loop is the home of Apple Computer and, until yesterday, the work place of one Doctor Gil Amelio.

The departure of the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer just a week ahead of the firm posting third quarter results has once again got the soothsayers predicting the fall of the house of Apple. Chillingly, the man who has stepped into Gil's shoes, chief financial officer, Fred Anderson, said "We are out of the business of predicting when the company will return to profitability".

In further bad news, chief technology officer, Ellen Hancock, is also to leave. This is possibly a bigger blow to Apple than the departure of Amelio, as it is Hancock who has successfully navigated the turbulent waters of merging the Apple OS with the Unix-based NeXT technologies. Early, hopeful signs about this union will not be helped by the departure of the vicar before she has joined the couple in matrimony. But amongst all this gloom, there are reasons to be cheerful, and it is interesting that Apple employees were today telling ZDNN that they were still hopeful for the company's future.

It is also worth noting that people have been predicting the demise of Apple more or less throughout all of its 20 year existence. Far from going under, Apple continues in its own unique way, with a market share hovering around the nine per cent mark. Sure, this market share is tiny by comparison with Wintel, but it is not tiny when you consider the size of the industry that we are talking about. BMW and Volkswagen don't have a nine per cent share of the automobile industry between the two of them, and they would be highly delighted if they did.

Then there is the value of the Apple logo. Not only the most famous logo in computing, but one of the best known brand names on the planet. No other computer manufacturer can count on the degree of loyalty and outright affection that Mac owners have for their Apple machines, indeed quite a few powerful PC manufacturers would still be a little bit worried should Apple ever decide to put their badge on PC's. That of course, would be to think the unthinkable for many at Apple. I mention it only to make the point that it would be one very easy way for Apple to survive. But they probably don't need this parachute yet.

But it is time to be brave. Which brings us to Steve Jobs. The man who did most to build the equity in the Apple brand name, and the man who lead the team that built the Mac, is expected to take a bigger role now that Amelio is gone. This is imperative if the company is to be turned around, though that larger role need not be as CEO. Jobs will be a far more effective saviour of Apple if he is set free from the day to day grind of running the corporation.

But in any list of reasons for Infinite Loop employees to be cheerful, Steve Jobs must rank highly on that list. At a recent Mac show Jobs was asked if he believed Wintel was now so powerful that Apple may as well pack up? Jobs would have none of it, and asked the questioner that if, when he and Steve Wozniak were working on the design for the first Apple computer, Woz had nudged him and said "Hey Steve those guys at IBM are pretty powerful shall we give this up", would that have been a good thing to do? Deafening howls of no from the audience. All of Jobs famous charm, vision, and motivational abilities will be needed to save the company he created. When the dust settles on the latest round of financial worries, Apple will return to doing what they have been doing for the last 20 years, building some of the best software and hardware the world has ever seen.

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