The Apple effect: How Steve Jobs & Co. won over the world
UPDATE: Steve Jobs passed on Wednesday. In this cover story, first published last month, Alan Webber explores what made Steve Jobs (and Apple) exceptional. Apple knew what consumers didn't want and understood the power of being itself. A look at what the company can teach corporate America.
Santa Fe, N.M.
The one and only time I met Steve Jobs was back in 1991. I was managing editor of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), and I'd made the trip from Boston to Silicon Valley to see for myself what was going on. I'd just wrapped up a presentation in one of the classrooms at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., when Mr. Jobs materialized and started a conversation.Skip to next paragraph
"That was a great article," he told me. "One of the best things I've ever read. It's absolutely right. It's not computers. It's computing."
He was talking about an article that we'd just published in the July 1991 issue of HBR, a piece written by Andy Rappaport and Shmuel Halevi called "The Computerless Computer Company." It was a provocative piece that came at a time when the United States was nervously watching Japanese companies win more than 40 percent of the American market for laptops, assert leadership in the production of memory chips, and rival US companies in the production of supercomputers.
Don't worry, the piece argued. The future isn't in computers. It's in computing. "Defining how computers are used, not how they are manufactured, will create real value – and thus market power, employment, and wealth – in the decades ahead," the authors wrote. "A computer company is the primary source of computing for its customers."
The future, in other words, is a verb, not a noun.
That insight, it seems to me, is at the heart of Apple today.
The computer is a thing, but what people want is not a thing, but to do things.
Armed with that strategic insight, Jobs has turned Apple into the most admired company in the world, according to Fortune magazine, for four years running. He has made it the world's favorite entertainment hub, listening hub, reading hub, watching hub, you-name-it hub.
At the core of Apple's strategy is the insight that apps are the future – because apps are verbs turned into code.
Sure, it's important to have the hardware to give those apps a home. And in true Jobs fashion, the hardware should be incredible, the devices perfect! They should come from a design sensibility that recognizes that design itself is a verb – an experience. Look and feel, touch and sound, the user experience is baked into the DNA of Apple – and that experience is treated obsessively in the way Apple does business.
Or that's how it seems to me, looking back across 20 years of business and economic history from that one encounter on the Stanford campus. More recently, Apple has topped the news for three unrelated but fascinating reasons.