Few things quicken a journalist's heart quite so much as a leaked memo. A story somehow seems that little bit more important, that little bit more urgent when it breaks free from the clutches of the corporate spin doctors. The trouble is, most memos are leaked by those very spin doctors in the first place and pushed into the hands of a pet journalist who is keen to get a scoop.
Except where Apple is concerned. What is it about the California air which inspires so many of the company's employees to dish the dirt to any reporter who happens to be passing by? The latest in a very long line of unofficial leaks last week revealed that Apple was mulling over a withdrawal from the low-end mass market, giving the clone assemblers a clear run. Instead the company will concentrate on building premium PCs at premium prices.
The thinking behind new chief executive officer Gil Amelio's putative recovery plan is orthodox enough, and moderately newsworthy. But its status as a leak has given it more prominence than it perhaps deserves.
Our anonymous email writer, who had attended a briefing with Amelio, clearly had one eye on the public when he wrote his memo. 'It scares me that an extreme form of this is how Sculley virtually destroyed the company. He tried to market computers, no matter how great they were, at twice the going market price for clones. I am willing to give Amelio the benefit of the doubt that he will seek the appropriately-sized premium that balances the company's advantages.' How very magnaminous.
Apple's thinking under Amelio seems entirely sensible. The company has made a dog's breakfast of the mass market. Under former CEO Michael Spindler, the company consistently got its sales forecasts wrong - getting saddled with warehouse loads of unsold Performas, while failing to build enough high-end Quadras to satisfy demand. The company also failed to produce enough Powerbooks - until the recent inventory debacle which contributed heavily to the firm's predicted $700 million Q2 1996 losses. Now it is questionable if Apple will ever regain the high ground again on notebooks. Meanwhile it has to work its way through an enormous $2 billion inventory stockpile before it can truly start again with a clean sheet.
Apple is simply too small to operate in every sector of the market. Its position as an OS developer and its use of non-standard components place a heavy cost burden which are unique to Apple. But the company retains a big enough customer base and fan club to ensure it should command a modest price premium. And the company will surely survive in some form, even if that form turns out to be a subsidiary of another firm.
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