Analysis: Does Apple have a future? Don't ask a Mac-Moony

To a certain kind of nerd owning a Mac is religion. The fiercely loyal Mac clan resemble a cult who, Moony-like, allow no criticism of their leaders or technology.

To a certain kind of nerd owning a Mac is religion. The fiercely loyal Mac clan resemble a cult who, Moony-like, allow no criticism of their leaders or technology. The charismatic cult leader is Steve Jobs, and the chief enemy of the cult is Bill Gates.

No surprise then, that when a former CEO writes a book stating that Jobs is a two faced git who knows bugger all about technology, and that the great Satan Gates is actually quite a nice chap, that the cult should be mobilised to protest. Within an hour of ZDNet posting a review of Gil Amelio's book, My 500 Days at Apple, the cult were responding with 'talk back' emails defending Jobs.

For the shareholders, many of whom are die-hard cult members, the Amelio book is an unwelcome distraction. After two years of hell when it often looked certain that Apple would either be sold or go bust, the last few weeks have seen the first good news in Cupertino, since Steve Jobs returned to the fold.

The company turned a modest profit in the first quarter, the share price is edging up, and the cult at last have a new Mac in the shape of the G3 that they can claim, with some justification, to be faster and cheaper than the enemy's latest batch of Wintel boxes.

Best of all, the cult can lavish the credit for the beginnings of this turnaround on Steve Jobs, and they can cheer him to the rafters at his next triumphant appearance at Mac World. They like that. But a less partisan analysis of the Apple come back must take account of the facts as well as the folklore. The truth is that when Gil Amelio brought Jobs back to Apple the turnaround was already in progress. Cuts had been made, sacred cow projects that were going nowhere were shelved, and some good people were brought in from outside. All text book measures from a turnaround CEO who had already earned his spurs by pulling National Semiconductor out of the mire. Furthermore, as is always the case with Apple, the problems were greatly exaggerated.

One thing that cult members are always quick to point out that happens to be true is that people have been writing off Apple pretty much since they made their first computer, nearly twenty years ago. Their oft-derided market share needs to be put in context. Sure they only have around five per cent of the market for personal computers, but that is five percent of a huge market. If BMW had five percent of the automobile market they'd be highly delighted. And another thing, if Apple are so bad at marketing how come the Apple symbol is one of the best known logos on the planet, and the people that buy and use Macintosh computers are ready to die for them? Most importantly of all, Apple still have the trump card of all trump cards up their sleeve. They could make PCs. With the strength of brand equity that exists in the Apple name and logo, it would be a very easy and lucrative exercise for the company to raise funds in this way.

Of course the cult would not be happy with this, but you don't need to be in the cult to see that they have a point. Ask yourself this question, do you want one company, and one culture, to dominate the design of the communications tools of the future? To ensure that the torch for an alternative choice continues to burn brightly at Apple, Jobs needs to rejoin the battle for market share, he needs alliances, he needs to end the uncertainty about his own role at Apple, and above all he needs to persuade those outside the tight circle of the Mac cult that that choice is a good thing to support.