The press now finds "reality distortion fields" everywhere, from one surrounding Newt Gingrich to the process of AIDS research. But the original field surrounded the Apple campus in Cupertino for decades and was widely derided by the entire computer industry. Perhaps now, with Apple one of the world's most valued companies, it's time to scrap the RDF dog collar
According to the Wikipedia, the term was applied from an original Star Trek episode to describe Steve Jobs' leadership charisma during the development of the first Mac. It didn't matter what was happening around the rest of the company or what division was making money. Forget the success of the Apple II computer (which actually was the major breadwinner for Apple until around 1987, years after the launch of the Mac), or the lack of same with the Lisa business machine (where many of the Apple GUI concepts were formulated). Forget all that and focus on the insanely great Macintosh, Jobs urged the team. And it was so.
This optimism was integrated into Apple culture and the company's employees have always acted on it. Of course, Apple knows better than everyone else, the Mac is way better than Windows, and someday everyone will understand that the Apple Way is right.
This was especially irksome to the rest of the PC industry, who noticed that Apple had a shrinking user base and group of developers. In fact, during the 1990s, Apple was cut out of almost all government contracts. The computer world circled around the twin suns of Intel and Microsoft. Apple was declared dead by the PC trade press and Michael Dell told a crowd of IT analysts and volume buyers that Apple should be shut down and the money returned to the shareholders.
But the installed base of Mac users, long-suffering Apple developers and Apple employees kept their heads up high. When PC press attended a briefing or demonstration at the Cupertino campus or at the Macworld Expo show, they would complain of the influence of the reality distortion field.
Who cared about a computer used by fewer than 5 percent of the world? Or its operating system? Or the worthy technologies developed there, such as QuickTime, FireWire and AppleTalk? The real world of the computer industry was happening at Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Sony, Fujitsu, Sun Microsystems, or anywhere else but One Infinite Loop. I heard this many times at technical sessions and IT analyst conferences I attended.
Now, a decade or so later, after the resurgence of the Mac, the relatively success of the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Apple is one of the worlds most valuable companies. This fall, its market cap this fall was about the size of Amazon, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft combined.
Yet, I observe that there are many analysts who still haven't reconciled themselves to the new world order. Certainly, we all can agree that is the year to put away the "distortion field" and perhaps look at the Apple reality. More on that later.