Brighton Pier was once put up for sale at #1. The catch was that the buyer would need substantially more than #1 to get the pier back into shape. How much, I wonder, will Apple fetch? However much it is, the likelihood is that Apple will never be the same again. Since the company has not been the same for 10 years or more, history is not on its side.
Sentiment tends to get in the way in any discussion about Apple. Users of its machines ? myself included ? see them as the last genuine alternative to the characterless, one-dimensional devices favoured by the rest of the planet. They ? the machines, that is ? are red squirrels in a world of cunning and voracious greys.
Bill Gates is said to wish Apple well, perhaps on the grounds that a viable alternative makes Microsoft?s domination of the industry look less than absolute. He certainly has more reasons to be grateful to Apple than most. It was largely the success of the Apple II that persuaded IBM to launch its PC in 1981. Three years later, Apple introduced the Macintosh. Would Microsoft have produced Windows without the example of the Mac? Did it have the inventive talent? Microsoft?s track record features rather more emulation than innovation. The giant has rarely been first to market with something new; instead, it has adapted other people?s ideas and made a better job of marketing them. And so it should have, given its position in the systems software market.
But these examples of the PC industry?s debt to Apple are both on the whiskery side. More recent ones are thinner on the ground. It might be argued that the Mac?s built-in networking provided a model for network-ready PCs of the type that Hewlett Packard, among others, began to try to popularise in the early 90s. But there was already a range of networking options available for PCs by the time the Mac came along.
Or you could point to desktop publishing, a branch of the industry still centred on Apple equipment. DTP hasn?t been an unmitigated boon. A lot of talented designers took to the Mac, but a lot of moderately skilled Mac operators took to presenting themselves as designers. The results have been variable and voluminous. It is axiomatic that you can have too much of a good thing, and with DTP the point at which enough becomes too much vanishes every day beneath a deluge of printed material. The same thing will happen in a slightly different way, but on a larger scale, with the internet.
On the other side of the coin lie Apple?s pretensions. It claims it set out to change the world. In 1990, unembarrassed by hyperbole, Apple included among the three charters on which its corporate identity is based ?a passion for changing the world?. Steve Jobs, apparently regarded in parts of California as a beatific vision, used to quote Bob Dylan to corporate America. Not, unfortunately, Ballad of a Thin Man (?Something is happening here but you don?t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones??), which would have been appropriate and provocative, but the more obvious The Times They Are A-Changin. When he set up Next, Jobs announced: ?I want Next to stand at the intersection of art and science.? The world?s reluctance to be changed must have been a source of great distress to him over the years. Jack Tramiel, the notoriously unsentimental founder of Commodore, once described the Mac as ?a computer for boutique owners?. So much, then, for sentiment.
The solutions proposed at different times to Apple?s problems have been tried; various corporate structures and channel policies have come and gone. Having set out to change the world, Apple appears to have been unable to adjust to the world changing around it.
If, as some reports say, Larry Ellison of Oracle is to be Apple?s saviour, the company might at last move beyond its California dreamin? phase. Oracle?s success, like Microsoft?s, is founded as much on marketing as on substance.
On the other hand, it might pass into the ownership of some consumer electronics outfit from a tiger economy on the other side of the Pacific Rim. In those circumstances it is possible to envisage Apple returning to its origins in the home market with cute electronic gadgets ? a Newton that dies if you don?t give it any affection, perhaps.
But whether Apple would remain recognisable is another matter. Regardless of technology and strategy and the bottom line, Apple?s main contribution has been the idea that work and fun need not be incompatible. Unfortunately, not enough of the people who buy computers agreed with it. Not many who buy computer companies will either. The grey squirrels in their grey suits have always been in the majority. The times may have been changing, but that is a constant.
Infrastructure provider says international sales now make up 51 per cent of its revenue
Suzanne Chappell of TMS plans sailing venture after selling Oxfordshire-based TMS to acquisitive Chess
Withdrawal of credit insurance by some providers a 'reflection' of current challenge facing IT sector, according to MD Steve Soper
SMART's UK managing director joins Lenovo to boost SMB business