How Apple is following Pixar’s blueprint of success

Some of us may still be wondering when Apple will break out of its niche market and gain a bit more market share. It isn’t that Apple has to turn the tables on Microsoft’s 95% of the computer market. I’d just like it if I could pull out my PowerBook and not have two thirds of the people at the table point, laugh and ask, “Do they still make Macs?” I’d like it if Apple could send out the press release that Citigroup or maybe General Motors is replacing all of their corporate computers with Macs. Something that would make the PC world sit-up and take notice that the Macintosh is a serious business platform.

The problem is that with only five percent of the market (approximately 3 percent worldwide), Apple is simply too easy a target for industry experts, the media and Wall Street to take pot shots at whenever they want. It would seem that ‘nobody ever got fired for predicting Apple’s demise’ in the last ten years or so.

I know different and you know different. If you’ve used OS X 10.1 lately you definitely know different, especially if you hooked up to an NT domain. It’s so easy to integrate a Mac on a network these days it took my breath away! After that experience, I thought it would only be a matter of time before a Fortune 500 company stepped up to the bat and made the switch to Macintoshes. That was, until I read the latest “I, Cringely” article at PBS.

If you want to give yourself a bit of a scare, go read the column, “The Best Revenge: Why the New iMacs Will Be Successful No Matter What They Look Like.” Don’t be fooled by the title, this column is not really about the new iMac. It’s about how Apple “won’t be enough to ‘win.'” Honestly, it gave me a chill. Read it, you’ll see what I mean. It made me think that maybe Apple and the Mac OS just might always be second class citizens, never be taken seriously ever and simply never escape the “niche’ market” albatross it wears around its neck.

It was so depressing a read that afterwards I went surfing on the web for something to cheer me up. I finally sought refuge on (Steve Jobs other company). They have their short films and movie ‘outages’ in QuickTime format. I decided I needed a laugh. After viewing the out takes from “A Bug’s Life” (verrrry funny), I decided to poke around Pixar’s immensely improved web site. Found a wonderful section on the company’s history. They have achieved some absolutely amazing success. Pixar was once just a small computer graphics division of Lucas Films. Back in 1986 Steve Jobs bought the division from Lucas Films and Pixar was born.

Luxo Jr. was their first release. It was the very first all-computer generated animated short film. Ironically, I remember seeing it on the big screen at a Short Film Festival. It was hilarious. I didn’t even use Macs back then, let alone computers but I still remember that film.

Flash forward almost 10 years later and you find yourself smack dab in the middle of a hugely successful film from Pixar called, “Toy Story.” Once again, Pixar makes history by being the very first to produce a feature length film that is completely computer animated and not just that, it also happens to be a box office smash.

Which got me to thinking back to the “I, Cringley” column. Steve knows how to win. In fact, Steve Jobs knows how to win BIG. Pixar now has made three of the top seven highest grossing animated films of all time! A number that will probably grow to four, with the recent release of Monster’s Inc. Don’t tell me Steve Jobs doesn’t know how to make Apple win.

Looking at what Pixar did to become such a huge success in just 10 years and to sustain that success is like a blue print for what Apple has been doing since Steve Jobs returned to the company as iCEO in 1997.

How did Pixar do it? By focusing entirely on being and doing the best they can, every time out. Each time they released a short film it pushed their story telling as well as their technology forward. They didn’t care that they suffered in virtual anonymity making short films and commercials. (Remember the conga line of LifeSavers candies?) In doing that, they did however garner a number of very critical awards and gained a reputation for quality and excellence.

Ironically, Pixar, like Apple, makes the entire widget! From developing the story to their 3D software Renderman, to writing and directing the movies. Starting out small, they made their short films and commercials all the while, improving their software, their skills and story telling. Then, they made a strategic partnership with Disney to co-create full length feature films and a “Toy Story” was born. Suddenly everything was different. It took about 10 years to do it but Pixar was a huge success.

That’s when it hit me. Is Apple playing Pixar to Microsoft’s Disney? That’s when I knew my original chill of fear was wrong. Apple is simply following Pixar’s blueprint for success.

Look at what Apple is doing and compare it to what Pixar has done. First things first, concentrate on what you to best. Steve Jobs dumps all the peripheral stuff (both literally and figuratively). Granted, Apple was an existing company when Steve came back but by dumping all that “stuff” Apple was able to truly focus on what they did best.

Apple then signs a deal with Microsoft to make sure that they keep producing Microsoft Office and to bury the hatchet on their legal differences. Once again, clearing the way for Apple to focus on what they did best. Then Apple releases the iMac, it’s a huge hit that saves the company. It’s no “Toy Story” but it gives them room to just keep making the best damn computers and software that they can. Additionally, they keep coming up with the best damn innovations that they can, FireWire, making QT the basis for MPEG 4, Airport, finally popularizing USB and probably more that we’ve yet to see.

They aren’t just pushing their computers and software ahead but also technology in general. Like Pixar, Apple has been gathering up awards and making their technology standard in the industry. Heck, Apple even went so far as to follow Pixar to the Academy Awards and win! Apple just recently won for FireWire.

Apple’s “Toy Story” isn’t going to happen over night. It took Pixar nearly 10 years to achieve their current success. Apple’s “Toy Story” is coming but don’t expect Apple to one day have 95% of the market. Pixar isn’t the most powerful movie studio in the world but they certainly aren’t a niche player making Listerine commercials anymore either.

The way I see it, Steve Jobs knows how to win and I suspect that given time, he will indeed increase Apple’s market share. Apple will finally break out of this notion that they are a boutique computer maker or the “BMW/Volvo” of the computer industry. It won’t be world domination but certainly enough market share, unique features and the best quality out there that it will finally silence all of the naysayers, PC Weenies and the industry experts that predict Apple’s demise year after year.

Honestly, I believe Apple will win. Maybe not quite as convincingly as in Pixar’s short “Geri’s Game” but certainly Apple will win.

Bob McCormick

Leave a Reply