Two days after returning my brand new Apple HomePod, after dealing with it's terrible software for three days, I just got a call (Wednesday, February 14, 2018) from Apple Tech support. It wasn't a Happy Valentine's Day call either.
They don't let the phone ring very long ... I made the mistake of leaving it in another room and after two rings, they hung up. I guess Millennials wear their phones around their necks.
So, I called back. We chatted and they were ready to help ... two days after it was returned.
In the process of trying to understand what was happening I came across an article of a speech Apple software chief, Craig Federighi made laying out the "new" 2018 chief strategy for software development. He was simply going to delay new developments until it was right, something Steve Jobs was fanatic about. Obviously this new strategy didn't apply to the iPhoneX or the new HomePod delayed at least three months from the original target date. I pointed out in an earlier column it should have been delayed a few months more ... or even longer.
Talking to Apple today, I had a kind of epiphany regarding the world's biggest companies and reflected on them just in my lifetime. And we may forget that who is the biggest today is no guarantee of who will be big tomorrow. Let's take a walk down memory lane.
The very first company I remember that was a monopoly at the age of 5 or 6, for all intents and purposes was AT&T. They dominated competitor GTE and all the regional small companies who depended on the use of their lines. However, when the government took them to court in the 80's breaking it into the seven "baby bells" it didn't take long for the whole mess to get back together again. But in the interim cell phones entered the picture and AT&T never became #1 again. However, Lily Tomlin's character Ernestine at "the telephone company" still gathered laughs at AT&T's hubris in the 70's when she said, "We don't (snort snort) have to, we're the phone company!
Next was GM's Alfred Sloan who stated in the middle 50's, when GM had 56% of the American car market, "What's good for GM is good for the country." They didn't see nor understand first the VW and then the flood of cheap, small and reliable Japanese manufacturers who followed another American guru, Dr. Edward Deming. He laid out a strategy to create successful, long lasting manufacturing techniques. In 1960 while Ford was building a Lincoln Continental that weighed 7,000 lbs., the biggest sedan in the world, they also had to create a small car, the Falcon. GM had the Corvair a slavish copy of the VW bug as both cars were rear engined, and Chrysler the Valient, all three that were by todays standards the size of most mid-size models, and they were "ugly." In their minds though, these were compact cars! Few agreed.
Next followed Esso Petroleum company that was the most valuable company in the world. After a merger or three they became Exxon of Exxon Valdez fame and that accident and stumble quickly took them off the top of the heap.
When I started working for Kmart, itself a recreation of the old Kresge 5 & 10, Sears was the biggest retailer in the world. We studied their catalog in Journalism classes. Our director said that as an advertising man you only needed three books: The Bible, Shakespeare and the Sears catalog. Nearly a 1,000 pages with tens of thousands of articles for sale, it was a marvel in giving you all the information you needed to buy in a sentence or two. Kmart began, just like Sam Walton's Walmart in 1962. That single event began the slow death of Sears.
The biggest retailer to the end of the 20th Century was Walmart. They employed over 700,000 employees becoming the biggest employer and company in the world. Starting in every underserved small town in America, they didn't show their face in places like Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago until much later. When they did, they had logistics down to a science and books were being written about how they were destroying small town America. When a new one was built in Rosemead, CA people picketed it for months ... before, during and after it was built.
The computer age pretty much began in the mid to late 1980's. Apple's splashy 1984 ad at the Super Bowl was their gauntlet to IBM and the competition began. Apple wanted complete control of their products, hardware and software, as they tightly control it today but IBM chose Bill Gates Operating System (OS), MS-DOS, something he bought, not created. It was a clunky coding software that was replaced by copying the elegance of Apple's mouse based graphic interface. Apple at one point had a chance. Finally Microsoft created Windows, practically giving it away and it became the standard of the world. Microsoft was king of the world, and in operating systems still is. However, they were late in the game in hardware and their Surface tablets and fancier almost laptop form factors have never caught on. The Windows phone was billions of dollars of loss.
Jobs, being forced from his own company, was asked by the Apple board to return in the late 90's. Apple was in it's death throes and obituaries were written about it in every financial publication and on the lips of all its fans. When he introduced the jelly colored iMac, where everything just worked, Apple came back. Sure there were stumbles but when the iPod came out it quickly replaced every other sort of music listening device in under 5 years. When the iPhone came out, late to the show but far more capable than anything else on the planet, Apple quickly grew and reached the top. It is at the moment the most valuable company on the planet.
Tim Cook is a finance guy. It never will be said he is a visionary. A close reading of Job's life makes it very clear he had a vision and was able, one way or another, to get others to bring that vision to life. Johny Ives may be a design guru but it was Jobs that made him great. That Federighi had to talk to every Apple employee, yes even the Genius at the Apple store Monday knew about it, tells you that something is wrong in the state of Cupertino, you just know there's trouble. I have a 2000 Titanium PowerBook that still works. Few Microsoft products can say as much. When I got rid of my PowerPS 6100 it worked but was so woefully underpowered that nothing new would ever run on it; I had to give it up. Can that be said today? With so many software issues bugging current products are we hearing "The King is dead! Long live the King?"
Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... KrugsStudio.etsy.com. I will be adding many new and exciting products. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!