With the 30th Anniversary of Apple coming up on April 1st, we thought that we might talk with Owen Linzmayer, author of Apple Confidential and Apple Confidential 2.0, the insider stories of the company called Apple Computer. So sit back and relax.
My Mac: Mr. Linzmayer, thank you for taking the time to speak with us about Apple Computer. Can you provide us with some background on you and your association with all things Apple/Mac?
Owen L: My interaction with Apple began back when I was a teenager in the early 1980s. I was working at Creative Computing magazine, covering the Apple II. Over the years, I wrote for every major Apple II magazine, then made the jump to covering the Macintosh in the late 1980s. I’ve been writing about the Mac exclusively since that time, having worked at and contributing to most of the major Mac magazines. I have also authored a number of books about the Macintosh and Apple itself, including Apple Confidential 2.0.
My Mac: Because of Apple’s innovation, it has continued to survive long past the point that most folks predicted. What do you believe Apple needs to do to continue on?
Owen L: Apple needs only to continue creating excellent products. The company survived many bone-headed managerial blunders on the strength of their products. Apple’s customers are incredibly loyal, and as long as the company keeps cranking out updates to Mac OS X, great new creative applications, and drool-worthy hardware, it will retain its customer base.
My Mac: Apple’s move to Intel – your take on the switch?
Owen L: Right now, it’s no big deal because the new Intel-based Macs are indistinguishable from their PowerPC predecessors. Physically they look the same, and they run the same software, albeit faster if the program has been updated to Universal Binary. However, in the future, the move to Intel may be a turning point for Apple. If users can choose to boot Mac OS X or Windows, or they can run be simultaneously, then there’s no longer any reason why people shouldn’t buy an Apple. In the past, many people who were attracted to Apple’s products wouldn’t buy a Mac because they absolutely had to use a Windows application in their business. With Intels inside Macs, that barrier may soon be removed.
My Mac: Where is Apple heading?
Owen L: It’s foolish to try to predict where Apple will be in the future. Just look at its past. Time and again, so-called experts opined that Apple was going out of business, or would dominate such-and-such industry. They are almost always wrong. The great thing about Apple is that it has the capability to reinvent itself every so often. I look forward to the next big thing to come out of Cupertino. I’m sure it will be as big a surprise when it happens as the iPod was a few years ago.
My Mac: Apple’s iPod and iTunes… too much focus on the music?
Owen L: Not at all. Whatever is good for Apple is good for the Macintosh. The iPod’s success feeds Apple’s bottom line, and that can be poured into R&D to create other cool products.
My Mac: Apple’s moves into the music and now the digital media markets are causing ripples throughout the industries. It’s time for change – is Apple up to leading the change?
Owen L: Apple has already lead the change. The music industry didn’t know how to respond to the threat of piracy, and Apple showed it that the way to combat piracy was not with lawyers, but rather, with a legal alternative that was well designed and reasonably priced. Now that the music industry has had success with the iTunes Music Store, they want to squeeze the golden goose, and are threatening to tamper with the simple pricing model that has a proven record.
The question is whether Apple will be able to dominate digital distribution of video as well. I think Hollywood is loathe to cede to Apple the sort of control it enjoys over music sales. Doubly so now that Jobs is the largest stockholder in Disney, which competes with many of them directly in the movie market. But Apple’s ace up its sleeve is its proven success with music. Clearly it knows better than most what consumers want, and how to deliver content to them with a business model that is profitable for both the content providers and Apple.
My Mac: Is Apple losing its focus on Macs and the OS?
Owen L: Certainly that’s a danger. Over the years, there has always been one “cool” project that attracted the best talent at Apple, with the rest of the employees made to feel like what they were doing wasn’t as important. When the Apple II was raking in the lion’s share of cash for Apple, it was scorned in favor of the Macintosh. Then the Mac was allowed to wither as the best and brightest toiled on the Newton. It’s possible that the lure of Hollywood movies and the music industry will siphon resources away from the Mac, but that hasn’t been the case yet.
My Mac: The Mac users “air of superiority” still continues on. After 30 years, is it still justified?
Owen L: By most accounts, Mac OS X is far more stable, secure, and easy to use than Windows XP. Not even Vista, when it finally ships in 2007, is said to be as good. That’s not just me talking. It’s the opinion of many experts who are not exactly Mac addicts. So, yes, I think Mac users are justified in their feeling of superiority. But that shouldn’t lead to complacency. There is still a lot of room for improvement in the Mac user interface, and we should be willing to adopt new ideas regardless of where they come from. Remember, computers are tools, not religions.
My Mac: Despite the forecasts of the imminent demise of Apple over the past 10 years, Apple continues to sell more products then ever before. Yet people still look at market share as the basis for judging Apple and its products. Do you think that Apple can take what it has done with the iPod and do the same thing with a new Mac?
Owen L: I don’t think anyone has speculated that Apple is going out of business since the iMac first turned things around. Since then the company has been on a roll and enjoyed its best financial results ever.
As to market share, yes, Apple’s slice of the computing pie remains very small. But the company has great influence on the larger world of computing and I don’t think market share really matters so much these days. After all, there aren’t a lot of Windows-only applications that don’t have Mac equivalents. The Internet is the most important application to most users these days, and it’s mostly platform agnostic since it relies on standards that are common to Windows and Mac OS X.
I hope that Apple can grow its computer market share since what is good for Apple is good for its users. Also, all switchers will benefit because they will be using a better system, and need not worry about malware that infests the Windows world. But I don’t think it really matters too much if Apple’s market share remains at 5 percent or doubles to 10 percent.
My Mac: If Apple could build you the computer of your dreams, what would it be and what would it be able to do?
Owen L: From a physical standpoint, it would probably look a lot like the iMac G5 I have in front of me right now. The specs aren’t necessarily important nor interesting. Of course, over time processor speeds will increase, storage capacities will grow, and memory prices will fall. The real advances will come in user interface design and ease of use. What these will be, I can’t say. I am hoping that some day soon, Apple will make a leap that makes today’s Macs OS X look like DOS in 1984.
My Mac: Apple computers are no different then other computers in that they permit the user to do things: read email, search the web, share photos, prepare reports, listen to music. Yet people continue to be drawn to Apple’s computers. What is it that makes them so attractive to people?
Owen L: Great industrial design, for one thing. Macs are more beautiful than Windows boxes. Look at a sleek PowerBook and contrast that to a clunky Wintel laptop, usually festooned with all sorts of distracting marketing stickers prompting Intel inside, and rows of blinking lights for all sorts of functions. Compare the simple lines of the iMac G5 to the ugly stuff put out by Dell. No contest.
My Mac: What do you believe to be the spark behind Apple’s innovation? Is it the drive of the leadership of the company or is it the people behind the scenes (that we never see) who work and produce the OS, the hardware, the applications that go along with the hardware or the look and feel of Apple’s products that differs from similar products produced by other computer companies?
Owen L: The drive behind Apple’s innovation has differed over the years. Of course it would foolish to discount the role played by Steve Jobs, who has been a ruthless taskmaster early in the company’s history, as well as of late. He is extremely demanding, and many employees fear disappointing him, so they give their all to whatever they do.
During the “dark ages” of the mid to late 1990s, fear of the company failing helped focus everyone’s attention on doing their best work possible.
Also, since the company has had such tremendous hits and is known for clever products, employees have a higher bar to reach with whatever they do. Good enough doesn’t cut it. It has to have that special Apple polish. Apple employees are motivated to impress one another, which is hard to do since the company has many very smart people working for it now.
My Mac: What do you think accounts for the remarkable customer loyalty that Mac users display towards Apple?
Owen L: Mac users have invested a tremendous amount of time in learning the “Mac way” of doing things, and spent a lot of money on hardware and proprietary software. That locks them into the platform, just as Windows users are locked into Windows. But what makes them different is that Mac users truly believe that their way is the better way, and so they stick by the company through thick and thin. Ultimately, it comes down to loyalty due to superior products.
My Mac: What do you consider to be the best moves that Apple has made over the years? The worst?
Owen L: The best move was the popularization of the graphical user interface. Command lines were too threatening to the public, and the Mac’s GUI made computing accessible and enjoyable. The focus on ease of use has been its greatest contribution to computing.
Unfortunately, by failing to license the Mac OS early on, Apple’s management almost drove the company out of business. They gave the mass market to Windows, which was a poor imitation of the Mac. The high-tech industry will never again see a company enjoy the sort of huge technological lead Apple had in 1984.
My Mac: A final question for you. Mac OS X is now 5 years old. Where does Apple need to take OS X next or what does Apple need to do for the next Apple OS?
Owen L: I think Apple should focus on two things: simplicity and security. OS X pretty much works very reliably, but it has grown to be rather complex, and some features don’t work as easily as they could. Rather than add new features, I’d like to see Apple think about how to streamline the existing features.
And since security is such an overwhelming problem with Windows, Apple should try to gain market share by courting Windows users with the promise that Mac OS X is rock solid stable and unassailable. Of course, before they do that, they have to make sure that all back doors and security holes have been plugged. I think the world would be much more productive if they could just focus on working on their computers, rather than trying to worry about viruses, Trojan horses, spyware, etc.