What to watch for

After completing this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Relate the history of Apple and its products
  • Outline Apple’s contributions to new media
  • Describe Apple’s vision for personal computing

Welcome to our first case study! If you’re a business school person, this’ll be different than the type of focused case study you’re used to. Instead, it’s just what I’m calling lessons that look at important companies (and later, types of businesses) rather than general topics.

We’re starting with Apple for several reasons: it’d be our first lesson in the new section alphabetically; it’s the oldest new media company we’ll be looking at; it’s perhaps done more than any other company to move computing into mainstream culture; and, not insignificantly, it’s my own personal favorite company. Let’s get started.

Required readings:

Read this first: “Apple Turns 40: Reflecting on Four Decades of History” by Joe Rossignol

(1,874 words / 10-15 minutes)

As we did with “What is Code?”, I’ll just call out several things here that stand out to me, but definitely read the whole article—it provides a good, concise outline for the longer second reading you’ll do next.

  • Watch the 40 years in 40 seconds ad (update: the video on the site was removed, but you can watch it here) before you read the rest of the article. Then, watch it again after you’ve completed everything in the lesson, and see how much you understand that you maybe didn’t get in your first viewing. 1
  • Remember: Apple I: first computer they made. Apple II: huge success, carried the company for many years. Apple III: not so great.
  • The Lisa was the too-expensive precursor to the Mac.
  • Apple’s “1984” ad was a big deal. Watch it, and maybe read a bit more about it on your own.
  • It’s really hard to separate the stories of Apple and of Steve Jobs. After Jobs was forced out of Apple, he built NeXT Computer. Though not a commercial success on its own, NeXT is historically significant for two reasons. First, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the Web on a NeXT computer.2 Second, Apple’s acquisition of NeXT in 1997 not only brought Jobs back to the company he founded, but the operating system NeXT had created became the foundation for macOS, which eventually became iOS, which begat watchOS and tvOS.
  • It’s hard to overstate either the cultural significance of the iPod or its impact on Apple’s finances.
  • History may regard the introduction of the iPhone on January 9, 2007 as a really big deal. Computers had obviously been around for a good while before the iPhone, but as we’ll discuss in much greater detail in our smartphones lesson, the smartphone really has become the first universal, global computing platform.

Read this second: “History of Apple Inc.“, Wikipedia

(8,263 words / 42-50 minutes)

Treat this article as a second, higher-definition version of the first one. You should absolutely go down any rabbit holes that interest you here. A few things that drew my attention:

  • It’s pretty great that Apple was started on April Fool’s day. Although Apple’s an enormous 3 corporation now, it really had a strong rebel spirit as a part of its early DNA.
  • Apple is kind of the canonical example of a start-up created in the founders’ garage.
  • Steve Wozniak is such an interesting foil to Steve Jobs. Take some time to read more about him, maybe even to watch some video of him.
  • It’s really crazy to think about how small and rough around the edges the early days of the personal computer industry were.
  • Apple’s obsession with fanless machines started in 1980 with the Apple III. Its vision finally came true with the new MacBook released in 2015. That’s persistence.
  • The Lisa is such an interesting machine, especially as the bridge between insights nicked from Xerox PARC and the Mac.
  • Apple’s relationship with Adobe over time is just fascinating.
  • Apple in the early-to-mid 90s was rough, but not without its successes.
  • Love the quote from Jobs about the relationship of Apple to Microsoft.
  • Though it’s now a moot 4 point, OS X is pronounced “Oh Es Ten”, not “Oh Es Ex.”
  • It’s really hard to understand just how big of a mistake people in 2001 thought the Apple Stores would be, especially now that they’re the most profitable retail chain per square foot.
  • The iTunes store was amazing, and not just because it paved the way for today’s App Stores.
  • The iPhone is, non-hyperbolically speaking, the most successful single product in human history, at least from a financial perspective. Not even Apple knew what a hit it had on its hands when it introduced it.

Two things not mentioned in the articles, but without which any discussion of Apple would be incomplete. First, more than any other company, Apple is responsible for bringing a focus on design to consumer computing devices. To quote Steve Jobs, “[Design is] not just what [something] looks like and feels like, [it’s] how it works.” Second, much of Apple’s strength comes from the fact that, as Jobs used to say, they make “the whole widget”—custom-built and custom-integrated hardware and software (and now, increasingly, services, too).

There’s so much more we could dive into here, but I think these two articles provide an excellent overview of the first forty years of Apple’s history. Now, go have fun in your group discussions!

Non-required readings

Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

A fantastic biography of Steve Jobs, far better than Walter Isaacson’s official bio. Heartily recommended.

Daring Fireball by John Gruber

This is far and away my favorite blog. Read the few most recent articles to get a feel for what it’s like, or listen to the associated podcast, The Talk Show. 5 If you really want to get deep into Apple, start at the bottom of the archive and just start reading articles that catch your fancy.

Discussion Questions

  • A lot of people either passionately love or passionately hate Apple products. If you fall into either camp, that’s okay—let’s take a minute here first to talk about why you love / hate Apple and / or its products.
  • Now that you have that out of your system, let’s move on to a more measured discussion. Share what you learned about Apple from the lessons that surprised you, especially anything about its history.
  • Share your thoughts about Steve Jobs.
  • Share something about Apple specifically not mentioned in either of the readings.
  • How would you articulate Apple’s vision for personal computing?

Words on / reading time for this page: 1,121 words / 6-8 minutes

Words in / reading time for required readings: 10,137 words / 52-65 minutes

Total words in / reading time for this lesson: 11,258 words / 58-73 minutes

  1. Also, here’s an annotated list of everything in the ad that we’ll discuss in class.

  2. As a typo just revealed to me, “coomputer” is a really funny way to mistype “computer”.

  3. On good days on the stock market, the most enormous

  4. Transcription of that video: Joey: All right, Rach. The big question is, “does he like you?” All right? Because if he doesn’t like you, this is all a moo point. Rachel: Huh. A moo point? Joey: Yeah, it’s like a cow’s opinion. It just doesn’t matter. It’s moo. Rachel: Have I been living with him for too long, or did that all just make sense?

  5. I’m such a huge nerd that I went to the live taping of the show in San Francisco during WWDC 2016 this summer—and freaking loved it.