Carlton, Jim; Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders; hard cover, 463 pages, New York: Times Books, October 1997, ISBN: 0812928512, $27.50.
Kunkel, Paul; AppleDesign: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group, paperback, 288 pages, New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, October 1997, ISBN: 1888001259, $44.95.
The end of 1997 saw two new books on Apple Computer from two different perspectives. While both authors believe that the computer industry owes much to Apple, they have different views on its future. One sees an Apple resurgence; the other expects Apple to be absorbed by another company.
Jim Carlton is interested in Apple's management; Paul Kunkel focuses on Apple's industrial design. As one expects with any book on Apple, both go beyond a narrow focus. Carlton follows the "common wisdom" about Apple: the Macintosh is no longer technically superior to Windows, Apple is untrustworthy, and Apple will cease to be an independent company. Carlton feels that Apple's biggest problem is the Window/Intel--Wintel--market share and mind share and that Apple's misadventures led it to becoming a niche player in a monopoly market. Carlton concludes that there is nothing Apple can do now due to its limited resources and that Apple will be bought by another company. He makes many good points, but his book also has many faults. Kunkel, in contrast, is optimistic about Apple. He finds many problems at Apple, but thinks it will survive--or better--through renewed emphasis on superior design.
Apple: The Inside Story
Jim Carlton's Apple: The Inside Story is an important book about Apple. It covers Apple's history, from the fall of Steven Jobs to his resurrection at Apple. While I disagree with a number of Carlton's assertions, I find the book does not deserve the beating it has received from the Macintosh community. Carlton is a writer for The Wall Street Journal and has been covering Apple for that newspaper for the past few years. He finds Apple to have been in a great position, but it then shot itself in the foot many times.
Carlton's main thesis is simple: Apple blew its technological lead due to its blundering top management. These blunders were the result of the managers' arrogance, egos, and greed. While Carlton harps on other themes, such as Apple's failure to allow cloning, he is best when covering its shortchanging of partners, developers, employees, and customers. It is his view of management in a business historical perspective that is his greatest contribution to Apple analysis.
Apple's structural weaknesses come up again and again. After Steven Jobs was forced out of the company, John Sculley saved Apple by taking decisive control and could have left as a hero after five years. Instead, Sculley's failure to set up a solid organizational structure added to Apple's problems and resulted in his being forced out after 10 years. Over time, top management became more and more removed from Apple's rank-and-file employees and the rest of the computer industry.
Apple's successes happened despite poor management. The first PowerBooks were successful because they were created outside Apple's normal procedures. The PowerMacs succeeded only because Metroworks provided the required developer tools. While Carlton does cover instances of good management--usually Sculley in a crisis--he usually describes the gang that couldn't shoot straight.
Unfortunately, Carlton's book suffers from its own structural problems. If he rewrote the book with his concluding chapter as his first chapter and kept his focus, he would have had a tighter, more cohesive, and more compelling book. While I find fault with Carlton's grasp of technical issues, what he thought Apple should have done, and his harping on the cloning issue, these are minor complaints compared to the writing style. And some important issues, such as the makeup of Apple's board of directors, should have been discussed throughout the book instead of just in the final chapters. He has good information and makes valid points. However, some of his best points are not revealed until the book's end.
Apple's Structural Flaws
Drummers are important to every rock band: they keep the other musicians on beat. Fancy drum solos are easy and glamorous; keeping the beat is hard work. When Bruce Springsteen auditioned drummers for the E Street Band, only one candidate, future E Street drummer Max Weinberg, noticed when he changed the tempo. Weinberg also didn't do a drum solo during his audition.
Carlton paints a picture of Apple where no one wants to be the drummer. Too many want power, money, and the spotlight, but no one wants to do the dirty jobs. Like a band of really great musicians who want to do long solos on every track, soloists do not a great band make.
Many Apple alumni lead illustrious post-Apple careers. So why did so many problems occur? Carlton finds that many of the individuals who made stupid decisions were quite smart. While he does not use the term, he presents some promotions as examples of the Peter Principle: promotion to your level of incompetence. Michael Spindler did wonders for Apple as a strategist, but failed when promoted to head operations. Jean-Louis Gassée worked without worrying about any oversight and provided little direction to his engineers. Lack of oversight, leadership, and poor staffing decisions harmed Apple. The problem came down to a flawed organizational structure.
An example of the importance of organizational structure is during the Sculley years. Del Yocum was an operations guy; he made sure production made enough computers of the right type to meet sales and made sure sales reps sold machines--unglamorous and boring but essential things. He made sure other VPs, such as Jean-Louis Gassée, Allan Loren, Michael Spindler, and Kevin Sullivan did their jobs. Despite weaknesses, this structure kept some very strong personalities in check. Well, the aforementioned gentlemen took offense against Yocum--most saw him as competition for the CEO title, convinced Sculley that Yocum had to go, Gassée told Sculley that it was "him or me," and Apple restructured itself specifically to remove Yocum from the company. Whoops, sorry, Del, but we don't have a job for you anymore. Not only did Apple lose Del, but the COO position itself, and top management went unchecked because Sculley did not have the ability to control it. People followed their egos and there was no one to bring them back to reality.
There was no control. Projects would spin out of control because of no defined objective. Too many engineers would be allowed to join the "hot" projects, making them impossible to manage. Carlton thinks that Apple has a great rank and file and that management wasted these employees. While concentrating on top management, he puts some of the blame on the board of directors, which, for a long time, had no one familiar with running a computer company. For a long time, it was dominated by venture capitalists and had no one with management experience.
Apple has suffered from its arrogance and hubris. The belief that Microsoft would never be able to begin to close the gap between Windows and the Mac OS led to many mistakes. Apple executives focused too much on the present. They refused to see that an improved Windows, combined with inexpensive Wintel computers, would make Apple's business model based on 50% gross margins impossible to sustain. Too little emphasis was placed on improving the Macintosh operating system and too much on developing "the next big thing." The result was an advanced Windows operating system came along that made it harder for Apple to justify its higher prices.
Outside of the education market, Apple did little work on building future market share. Few people could afford spending over $5,000 for a computer setup, and a IIfx setup cost much more than that. Yet, for a long time, Apple targeted those with dollars in their pockets. Management was caught in a trap of good times: 50% profit margins led its leaders away from any direction that would lower those margins. Gassée tried to push those margins up to 55%. There was recognition that Apple's future would be tied to market share and that building a larger loyal customer base could only be done with less expensive models. However, there was a fear that less expensive Macs would result in lower high-end Mac sales. Better to force their customers to buy expensive models than risk their buying something less expensive.
Gassée had a vision of all-Mac offices when he eliminated projects to improve connectivity between the Macintosh and other computers. He felt that modems would provide all cross-platform connectivity, and he wanted to keep the Mac as proprietary as possible. The Macintosh is so great that considerations of working with other types of computers was considered unimportant.
As time went on, top management seems to have lost interest in the Mac. Sculley saw that the war against Microsoft was lost and worked on making Apple victorious in the next paradigm shift. There was a desire to recreate the Macintosh experience with brand-new technology. While everyone searched for the next big thing, they ignored fundamentals such as basic improvements to the Macintosh hardware and operating system. There is nothing wrong with working on the next revolution as long as you still devote adequate resources to the present.
One highlight of Apple: The Inside Story is seeing the people behind Apple. Carlton did extensive interviews with current and past Apple employees. Those interviewed more extensively appear as complex individuals. Rather than just seeing that "Apple did this," we see people who made decisions. Sculley, who would have been a hero if he left Apple after five years, becomes the scapegoat due to his frequent indecision. Gassée is the Frenchman who put everything in sexual terms and funneled resources to his engineers without directing them. Spindler is a great strategist, but a total failure in operations, who wanted the prestige of meeting with heads of states more than anything else.
Problems With the Book
Despite this book's importance in revealing many aspects of Apple's poor management and reviewing its history, the book also has many faults. In many regards, this book follows the "conventional wisdom" about Apple and provides the standard answers for what Apple should have done.
Early cloning was the only hope for Apple
Carlton makes Mac cloning the big issue throughout the book. Not only is an entire chapter devoted to why Apple should have licensed its operating system in some form or other, but Carlton keeps bringing up the issue. He has a good point in that it is often Apple versus the entire personal computer industry, and Macintosh clones and/or licensure would have added partners to promote the Mac. He explores Apple's attempts at limited licensure and names major companies that, in his mind, would have made perfect Mac cloners because they would have expanded the Mac market.
MacOS on Intel hardware is another of his causes. He covers Apple's successful attempt at getting the MacOS to run on an Intel PC and its destruction. I am not sure if the MacOS on Intel would have yielded the desired results, considering the need to support so many devices and software drivers. Would a Macintosh without its hardware/software integration have been compelling enough to customers? Might it have split up the Macintosh software business by forcing developers to have 68K and/or 80x86 versions of the same software, meaning that some packages might have been available on one but not the other?
Apple may have passed on some very good opportunities, but Carlton overstates the possibilities of some of the proposed partnerships. For example, Carlton thinks very highly of AT&T and thought it would have been the perfect Macintosh cloner, never mind its many failures in the computer business. His promotion of particular strategies distracts from his analysis of the problems of top management.
Another Carlton thesis is that almost any other large company could have better managed Apple. Again, Carlton sees AT&T saving Apple by buying it. He blames the failure of the AT&T/NCR merger on NCR. From what I read at the time in the major computer magazines, AT&T destroyed what was NCR through massive mismanagement. The other mergers he champions, including one with IBM, made me shudder. Mergers are usually acquisitions by another name, and a well-done merger is very hard to do.
Carlton claims that Apple had put itself on the sales block starting at the end of Sculley's tenure. Spindler spent five years trying to sell the company, coming close to selling to IBM, but the deal was killed by his own greed. The end of the Sculley era was capped by an attempted merger with IBM. If true, these attempted merger deals are enough to make a Mac fan's blood boil because Apple was trying to sell itself because it considered itself a failure.
Apple: The Inside Story is no Fumbling the Future, which chronicled Xerox's failure in the personal computer industry. The writers of Fumbling had a keen grasp of both the business and technical issues involved with Xerox. Carlton zeros in better on business than technology. He describes various technologies wrong, and sometimes misses the point.
For example, he describes System 7--something that he thought was pointless--as introducing the "MultiFinder." In reality, System 7 did away with the MultiFinder, which was part of System 6, and introduced improved multitasking. His description of the Mach kernel sounds very strange to me. On page 94, QuickTime is "a three-dimensional graphics technology."
I found many mistakes in this book. It is infuriating because it obscures the good information. Many times I would come across a story that explained something that I had read about Apple years ago, such as Spindler hunkering under a desk during his last days. Sometimes the most bizarre tales would ring true. But I came across too many factual errors to accept Carlton's word without verification.
Carlton sometimes confuses his judgment with facts. He considered Apple to be too small to design and produce its own processor. Yet Sun has created its own processors for years, and it is much smaller than Intel. John Warnock is shown as a real nice guy, and Carlton ignores how much Adobe was raking in from Apple and from users by keeping Type 1 fonts proprietary. Microsoft seems to be immune from blunders. Sometimes his presentation of his opinions are a bigger problem than the opinions themselves.
Sometimes his research falls short. For example, when discussing Allan Loren, VP for sales, most of his Apple sources said that corporate customers loathed Loren's sales calls, though others within Apple stated the opposite. Carlton should have taken the next step and interviewed not just Apple insiders but also Apple customers, and ex-customers, as to whether Loren advanced or killed sales. What mattered most was the perception of customers and not Apple's sales force.
Carlton's analysis of the Macintosh software market is questionable. According to him, there are no noteworthy Mac-only software products. But while times have been hard for many Macintosh software publishers, others, such as MacSoft, have experienced rapid growth during the past few years. Carlton recognizes the importance of software developers for any platform and the problems Apple has in attracting and keeping Macintosh developers. But he overstates the problems of the Macintosh software market.
Quality of writing
The quality of writing is uneven. Fumbling the Future is a much better example of a narrative tale of a high-tech company. Carlton was probably under a time constraint to keep his book as topical as possible. The second half reads much better than the first. His concluding chapter is the best written. I think he should have taken the last chapter, made it the first, and then rewritten the book accordingly. This way, the themes of the book could have come out more consistently. Good nonfiction narratives are hard to write because of limited control over the material, but a great one really shines.
The worst part about the writing is that it wanders around too much. If Carlton stuck to how Apple's top management and board of directors damaged the company, it would have been stronger book. I was disappointed that he never mentioned the problems concerning the Apple's BOD until the end of the book. It would have been better if the BOD was covered in earlier chapters and if it actions were contrasted with those of more successful boards.
One cannot write about Apple history without discussing Microsoft. While they were not joined at the hip, their fortunes have been intertwined. Early in the book, Carlton writes about Microsoft's lack of technical innovation and dependence on marketing. But in the latter half of the book his tune changes. He complains repeatedly about Apple's attitude toward Microsoft and argues that Microsoft wants to help Apple. He never mentions that Microsoft has repeatedly ignored Microsoft programming guidelines from the early days, resulting in many compatibility problems. Remember when Excel could not take advantage of the memory on the 4MB MacPlus? Carlton is unaware that Microsoft's 1994 software development tools ensured that Mac programs would run slower than Windows versions and forced development work to be done on a Windows computer.
His blindness to Microsoft distorts his analysis of Microsoft Office 4.2. Carlton quotes Bill Gates as being angry that it was such a poor product and taking blame for it even though Apple did not share important technical information with Microsoft about the PowerMacs. Carlton thinks that the only problem with WORD 6 was its glacial speed, and he states that Microsoft fixed this problem in version 6.02. He ignores that the main complaint was that Office failed to follow the Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines, had a Windows interface, and lacked important Mac technologies such as "drag and drop." I'm not sure if Carlton grasps the importance of following Macintosh style even though he admits once that he used the Macintosh for Internet research. Even today, most Macintosh WORD users prefer version 5.1 over 6 because of the earlier version's interface. Carlton never mentions that WORD 6 is unbearably slow on a 68040 system, but that would defeat his thesis that Apple was responsible for WORD's problems by withholding information from Microsoft. He ignore's Microsoft's arrogance in trying to make Macintosh software work like Windows software.
He never mentions that Microsoft decided to skip a full version of Office for the Macintosh, which probably encouraged a number of companies to drop the Macintosh from their buy list. The positive impact of Office 98 on Macintosh buying supports Carlton's assumption that Microsoft is important to the Mac and can help Apple. But he ignores how Microsoft has refused to make Macintosh versions of some important software, such as Access, making them less compatible in Microsoft-software-dominated offices. I must admit my own biases, but I wish someone would explain to me why Microsoft is not making new versions of FrontPage for the Macintosh even though the Macintosh is a major Web design platform.
Another important issue that Carlton misses is how Apple had to compromise various operating system upgrades due to Microsoft's programming arrogance. I have read over the years how Apple had to hamper its operating systems to accommodate Microsoft's violations of Apple's programming standards.
I agree that Apple's hostility toward Microsoft was nonproductive, especially during the Spindler presidency. Carlton points out the improvement of relations between the companies after Spindler left Apple, though he gives too much credit to Jobs. One would think that Jobs single-handedly created the Microsoft-Apple agreement because the book never mentions that Gil Amelio was working on this project for a year. Carlton also never mentions why Microsoft agreed to pay Apple millions of dollars for patent infringements.
Paul Kunkel's AppleDesign: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group is a delight to the eyes and a celebration of Apple's industrial design. Almost every Apple product, from the Apple II to the 20th Century Macintosh, is covered in this book in both text and photographs, plus many never-implemented designs. I found only a few Apple hardware products left out of the book. AppleDesign also provides credit for the industrial design of every product covered.
AppleDesign succeeds because it uses Apple's products as a way of telling Apple's history. Its goals are more limited than Carlton's in that it is only trying to tell one aspect of Apple's history and not explain Apple's current financial success. It's great seeing each product in the context of the Apple story.
AppleDesign goes beyond showing off Apple's industrial design (ID). Through stories both associated with specific projects and independent of any project, we see more about how Apple has operated and about personalities. While they do not give a complete picture of Apple, they complement the information in Apple: The Inside Story. These views of Apple sometimes support and contradict Carlton's book, but they also present information that is not widely known.
What in the Heck Is Industrial Design?
Industrial design is the creation of a product's look and feel. Just as Macintosh software is easier and more inviting to use, good industrial design makes products more attractive, inviting, and easier to use. A good industrial designer has skills in multiple areas such as graphic design, sculpting or model-making, engineering, and psychology.
History From Another Viewpoint
The book is laid out with photographs in the center pages. Each photograph is numbered and named. The text refers to each photograph by number, so you need two bookmarks--one for the text and the other for the photographs. The text is divided by projects. So when you read about the LC III, you see the ID designers listed--many being given public credit for the first time--a description of the design, a history of the design, and what was happening at Apple at the time. The book tends to be linear in approach, though there is some jumping back and forth in time. And if you find a photograph that is intriguing--perhaps the Jonathan models that you have never seen before--it is easy to find the related text. The book can be read from being to end or in pieces. You can also just admire the photographs.
But AppleDesign focuses on industrial design. When each computer is covered, we don't learn much about the internals such as the processor or hard-disk size. We might find out that a design might reflect a computer's power. We do learn about the engineering associated with creating the case or making the innards fit into the form factor.
AppleDesign shows new aspects of well-known stories about Apple. For example, the reason for the failure of the Apple /// computer is given a new twist. AppleDesign's telling of the story doesn't contradict previous tales of the /// but adds to them.
The design work had to be done very early in order for the computer to be ready for Apple's first public stock offering. At the time, the FCC was still working on rules for electromagnetic interference for personal computers. Mancock decided that, to be on the safe side, he would use a thick aluminum case to ensure that the Apple /// would pass the most rigorous rules. Unfortunately, due to a series of events, this would contribute to the Apple /// disaster.
The Apple /// project lacked a firm leader. Feature creep occurred because no one said "no" to any proposed addition. The motherboard was loaded with more circuits than originally envisioned. The case could not be altered to accommodate a larger motherboard because it was already built. Jobs insisted that no fan be included in the /// because it would be "inelegant." It was evident that there was a problem when the first ///s were produced. Apple was in a bind. The release date of the Apple /// was written into the first public stock offering filings, meaning big trouble if Apple did not do what it said it would do. So Apple released the machines and they quickly broke, giving the Apple /// a black eye. If only the case design was not set in stone so early or the FCC had released the rules six months earlier or someone had kept all these extra features from being put in or if the veil of secrecy was lifted earlier or it had a fan or if Apple had fixed the production problems before releasing the computer. The /// suffered from both bad luck and poor management.
We also see many successes. I never realized the success of the all-in-one Macs, such as the LC 520. The PowerBooks showed the importance of ID and why it adds value to the computer. While Carlton shows us one disaster after another--I constantly expect Apple to go out of business in any of his chapters--Kunkel shows us the ups and downs. We get a much better idea why Apple was successful, and we don't view the last 10 years as a downward spiral.
Apple's ID history is divided into four periods: Beginnings, frogdesign, the Middle Years, and the Apple Industrial Design Group (IDg). It's not the usual classification system for Apple's history, but one that reflects history through ID.
Beginnings covers the Apple II, Apple ///, Lisa, Macintosh, related peripherals, and the SnowWhite Project. It is during this period that Apple's commitment to world-class ID and the foundation for an Apple identity were established. Part of the Apple II's success was its ID. Steven Jobs recognized the importance of ID to establish Apple as the personal computer company and make the Apple II a consumer's computer. He hired Jerry Manock--who had just left Hewlett-Packard a month before to establish his own ID consulting firm--to design the Apple II case just nine weeks before its public showing at the West Coast Computer Faire.
Jobs saw no sense in investing time and money into a motherboard and then housing it in a cardboard or wooden case. He knew that a plastic cover was important, even though it caused more production problems than a metal case because of the need to add shielding. The shape was largely determined by the work already done on the motherboard and chassis, but Manock was able to design a distinctive case that proved to be an icon for Apple Computer. It created an impression at the West Coast Computer Faire that the Apple II was already in mass production, while in reality, it was created with a low-volume production method to save time and machine tooling costs.
Steve Jobs envisioned the Apple II with no slots and tried to get Steve Wozniak ("Woz") to compromise with only two slots. Woz would not give in and threatened Jobs that there would be no Apple II unless it had at least four slots. Woz won, evidenced by the Apple II's six slots.
Jobs hated slots for two reasons. First, poorly designed cards were the cause of many computer problems, so eliminating them would also eliminate many computer support calls. Second, and more important, Jobs decided that the Apple II was for the general public and not the hobbyists/hackers who were the current personal computer buyers. In other words, Jobs decided the target audience would be interested in software, and he wanted to design the computer to discourage anyone from outside this defined group from buying the Apple II. This is the not last time Jobs would try to discourage people from buying a computer because they, the customers, did not meet his criteria.
Jobs, still determined to put his mark on the Apple II, suggested to Manock that they chrome plate the interior to make it beautiful inside. In return, Manock suggested that Jobs find something useful to do, such as help Woz test the motherboard or help with the design of the custom power supply. Jobs didn't mention chrome plating after that. However, Jobs refused to spend the $300 to make a model of the Apple II to make sure the plans were perfect before ordering the cases. The result was that the cases did not fit and every Apple II case had to be hand sanded and filled and that each cover would fit only one bottom.
The Apple /// was also designed by Manock. It could have had successful sales if not for bad luck and Apple's faults. Despite its many technical accomplishments, it failed to sell well due to its poor introduction. It should have taught people at Apple the need for focused product development.
The Lisa and Macintosh are both part of this period. The Lisa exhibited new ID ideas, such as allowing room for the keyboard under the computer's monitor. But it was the Macintosh that grabbed everyone's hearts and minds.
The Mac was another Manock design. The process of designing the original Macintosh was very unique in personal computing: the hardware engineers, software programmers, and industrial designers all worked very closely together. It was designed to be friendly in look and with many nice unseen touches, such as ridges under its handle for a better grip.
Jobs greatly influenced the Mac. He wanted the one-piece design. Of course, it had no fan, but other decisions by Jobs are less known. The original keyboard had no arrow keys because Jobs believe that the mouse made them unnecessary. Unfortunately, the story of the number pad with arrow keys is not covered in the book, so I don't know who thought of adding number pads there. The most interesting details involve expansion. Jobs wanted none of it--no slots to keep costs down and keep away the hardware hackers, no SCSI port because Jobs saw no need for hard disks and wanted to keep the machines, once sold, as similar as possible, no industry-standard ports with a raised bar over them to ensure that no existing cables or peripherals could be used with the Mac, a very tight fitting cover to discourage customers from opening it. Jobs wanted as much control as possible over the Mac, even after being sold. The MacPlus would revamp many of the original Mac details--introduction of SCSI, removal of bar above ports--to make it a more expandable machine.
Despite much success in industrial design--the original Macintosh only failed to win design awards because Manock was too exhausted to submit it to design competitions--Apple's ID was disunited. There was no central theme or language holding the products together. At the end of this period, Apple worked hard to devise an international design to unite its products. The designers recognized Apple's need to have a world-class design language and recognized that it had to go outside for a world-class industrial designer. SnowWhite was to be the language and the basis of a competition for finding a designer.
Apple identified top industrial design firms and invited them to enter a competition for designers to come up with the SnowWhite design language and to design eight computers and devices. There were originally to be seven devices, named after the seven dwarfs, but Apple added an eighth, Blossom. The devices included an Apple II, a beginner's Mac, an advanced Lisa, an ADB mouse, and a printer.
Jobs eventually found a soulmate in the German designer Hartmut Esslinger. Jobs originally disliked Esslinger's designs, but later warmed to them, especially after meeting the man, at the urging of Rob Gemmell, an Apple designer. Esslinger was looking for an opportunity to create a design studio in California and saw Apple as the client that would pay for it. In a short time, Esslinger had his dream and established frogdesign with an exclusive contract with Apple. In exchange for a minimum of $1 million a year plus hourly billing, frogdesign would have Apple as its sole computer customer and Apple would not use any other outside firm. To Jobs, and Apple, money was no object.
The next period for Apple's ID were the frogdesign years. They would continue until Jobs left Apple. But the influence of frogdesign and SnowWhite would continue.
Esslinger was asked to redesign the original Macintosh, but he thought it was too close to production and would be an insult to its designers to replace the design. Esslinger did build some models but allowed the Macintosh to go unchanged, to his later regret when designing the MacPlus. So the first true SnowWhite design to see production was the Apple IIc.
The IIc was a winner, both in sales and in design. It won a great number of ID awards and was recognized as a great computer. At least among designers. Designed by Gemmell and Esslinger, it incorporated the SnowWhite language.
But the best-known SnowWhite design was the Macintosh II. It was the epitome of the SnowWhite language. So many different considerations fit perfectly in place, such as the way the ribs were incorporated with the exhaust vents. But this type of design did not come cheap. Esslinger was like Jobs; he wanted the perfect look, spare no expense. There were tangible benefits for the II's case production method, including the difficulty of competitors to copy the design. Apple wanted to avoid the problem of lookalike Asian clones that plagued the Apple II. But one problem was that the Macintosh II brought the SnowWhite language as far as it could go. There was a reason why the IIx and the IIfx shared the same case.
Apple was in a quandary after Jobs left. Esslinger only wanted to report to top management at Apple, he was expensive, and he was a Jobs legacy. Apple had to either use him or design in house; breaking the contract was far too expensive a proposition. Esslinger, to everyone's surprise, made it easy on Apple. He wanted to work with Jobs designing the NeXT cube, so he broke the contract with Apple, to everyone's relief.
Products that shipped during this period include the ADB mouse, the Mac SE, ImageWriter II, LaserWriter, LaserWriter II, MacPlus, ImageWriter LQ, and AppleScanner.
The middle years
Apple had two problems. It lost its designer and did not have a design department. Just as important, it needed to rise above the SnowWhite language. SnowWhite made Apple hardware unified and distinct from the competition. But the competition was incorporating Apple's ID into their products, making Apple's machines less unique. In design, you have to keep advancing or innovating. The folks at Apple realized at the beginning that competing on price and not quality would result in the death of Apple. Compete only on price and enter a death spiral of constant price cuts, with no money left for R&D. ID was one way to make Apple products superior.
Yet Apple was without a rudder. It made as much use of the SnowWhite language as possible. Variations would flourish. Also major design disasters, such as the Macintosh Portable, would raise their heads. Kunkel makes a point of looking into why projects succeed and fail. The Mac Portable was an example of what not to do. It was a machine with no compromise, resulting in a very heavy portable. No one was willing to take the lead and say, "Hey, we need to make this lighter, so what features will we cut?" This is where Kunkel and Carlton come closest in their criticism of Apple.
With the exist of frogdesign, Sculley formed Apple's Industrial Design Group (IDg). Most industrial design talent had left Apple, so the group had to be rebuilt. This is not to say that Apple didn't have successes. The IIcx, a very successful design, was designed in house.
This period also saw the introduction of the "inexpensive" Macs, the LC and the IIsi. Sculley was resisting the call of lower priced computers. The sirens of high margins kept saying "don't do anything that would lower the sales of the high-priced IIfx." According to Kunkel, it was Wall Street that forced Sculley to support a low-priced Mac. The money people saw the need for lower priced computers for Apple's longevity.
It was during this time that Apple was struggling to find someone new to lead IDg. Unfortunately, Apple wasted time and money on this search. The decision to emphasize in-house industrial design and hiring the right person made IDg successful.
The Apple Industrial Design Group
On January 3, 1990, the day Bob Brunner joined IDg, a new era began. Brunner turned IDg into an internal consultancy with one client: Apple. It was to react quickly to requests and operate efficiently. IDg was also to replace SnowWhite with a new design language. And Bonner was to do design work himself, something unusual for a design manager.
A revival of Apple design. It has now gone beyond an ID language to something more flexible. SnowWhite just didn't work with portables; they needed something new. It was recognized that designers needed more flexibility while keeping a distinctive Apple look. For example, SnowWhite proved to be poorly suited to portables.
This period saw great design, including the PowerBooks, Color Classic, and LC 520. The actual design work was done both in house and by outside consultants, depending on project needs and internal resources.
One problem is that Apple was funding design for the rest of the industry. Apple's consultants would go on to work for other companies, using ideas created with Apple to go into other's products. This reflects how Apple indirectly provided R&D for the other computer makers.
The last machine described is the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Kunkel spends a good amount of print on this machine. This is the first computer designed for the living room. Gateway has designed a computer to be used with the family television, but Anniversary Macintosh is something truly different. It is a totally new computer design. Once the price was lowered from $8,000 to below $2,000, it quickly sold out. Apple's superior ID is appreciated, but it does not justify a high price.
AppleDesign gives a view of what will happen next. Kunkel is heartened by the return of Jobs because he is a supporter of superior ID. He also thinks that Gil and Steve make the perfect team, resulting in an embarrassing paragraph in his introduction. But he shows that Apple has rebuilt enough to bring all design in house and to stop being the ID R&D firm for the computer industry.
How the History of ID Reveals Apple's Soul
It is to Apple's credit that superior ID has been supported throughout the company for its entire history. Industrial designers often have to fight with product designers over what can and cannot be done. But Apple engineers support its industrial designers, recognizing that ID results in superior products, even if the extra work is a pain. Apple's attitude toward ID reflects the general attitude toward making products that excel.
Throughout the book, we get more stories on how ID reflected aspects of Apple: from the Apple ///, a computer that reflected the belief that Apple could not fail, to the Lisa and Macintosh, which redefined the personal computer, to the MacPortable, which reflected an inability to define a product, to the original PowerBooks, which reflected the best of Apple. By focusing on products rather than management, AppleDesign shows us a broader view of people inside Apple than does Apple: The Inside Story.
Apple was slow to follow up on the original Macintosh and Macintosh 512K. The quick sales of the MacXL showed a demand for more powerful Macs with larger screens. But Jobs forgot, intentionally or accidentally, to order parts to make more MacXLs, a machine that could have filled a void until the MacPlus or another more powerful machine could be introduced. Apple killed other projects aimed at building more powerful Macs with larger screens, losing some top employees in the process. This lack of followup would continue to bedevil Apple.
What is revealing of Apple's soul were the projects that were killed. It is normal to kill in any company. Because ID is a small portion of research and development, a good ID department can save a company lots of money by presenting proposed products in a concrete manner. It is cheaper to kill a product after some ID work than after some engineering work. However, why some products were killed does reveal an early weakness at Apple.
The Jonathan project was proposed before the introduction of the Macintosh II. It was thought up independently by frogdesign and an Apple engineer. It was based on a backplane that looked like a bookshelf. Users could buy modules, which resembled books, and plug them into the shelf. Need a hard disk? Just plug in a hard-disk module. Need a more powerful CPU? Just plug it in. This was to be an expandable computer without slots. From an ID standard, it was unique; the computer would get larger as it got more powerful. In fact, it was intended to be a cross-platform standard. Its originators thought it would be a wonderful way to infiltrate MS-DOS users, allow them to run both MS-DOS and Mac software, see the superiority of the Mac, and convert.
Unfortunately, it was that last point that killed the project without any discussion by top management. Sculley felt that any comparison of the Mac and MS-DOS would leave DOS the winner. Apple's strategy was to become more proprietary and to lock in Mac users whenever possible. In other words, top management lacked faith in the Mac.
Jonathan's proponents were told that it would compete with the Macintosh II. They thought this was crazy because Jonathan was aimed at a different group of users and was based on a low design cost. They even put together a plan allowing Apple to license the hardware design to the entire industry and make some money on every module produced. This did not fit in with Apple's belief of going it alone, proprietary design, and providing and little interoperability with other personal computers.
Both books are important contributions to Apple historians and fans. They take different views of Apple and come to different conclusions. Carlton's is the sensationalist book, showing why Apple is failing. Throughout the book, we see one blunder after another, expecting Apple to go out of business at any moment.
Despite my criticisms, I did learn from Carlton. Mostly, I learned to trust Apple less. If Apple says that it is working on something, I don't plan on it becoming reality. Perhaps Apple, with its new secretiveness, has learned that it needs to build its credibility and that it has to show real products and not depend on future announcements.
AppleDesign avoids this problem by focusing on Apple's products. The designs provide a tight focus for viewing the company. It is not a complete picture by any means, but you better understand why Apple was successful in the first place. You also appreciate Apple's industrial design, seeing it does more than create a pretty computer.
But a nagging doubt is left in my mind. How much is good industrial design worth? Are enough people willing to spend money on a superior product? And how much is too much? Jobs made the original NeXT cube seamless, which greatly increased its price beyond the means of the education market it wanted. I think it is more than Apple having to communicate the superiority of its products. Apple has to decide what is truly important and not assume that any additional cost can be justified.
Did Apple need to produce so many different Macintosh models given its record for misforecasting demand? So many models were unique, required custom parts, and had different types of slots. Was there a need for both the Macintosh LC and IIsi? The LC was slim, inviting, and the less expensive, though it included a new card slot. The IIsi was faster, though slower than a IIci so that it would not cut into the faster computer's sales, and used the SE 30's PDS slot and the standard Nubus slot. The IIsi was my second computer--the first was an original 512K Mac--and I used it for five years. But was there really a need for two lower cost Mac models to be introduced on the same day? The LC went through a series of upgrades that eventually made it superior to the IIsi in most ways. I can't help but wonder if Apple would have been better off to have centered its efforts on only one of the two models.
I come away from these two books looking at Apple with a more critical eye. I am not sure that Apple has improved its internal organization or that Jobs has learned from the past. Macintosh prices have dropped and performance improved, but I am waiting for Apple to take the lead again in the computer industry.
Apple is not about to disappear, but is in a tough position. It has little room for error, which is why Microsoft mistakes are less important than Apple mistakes. After going through a period of ignoring the Macintosh in favor of "the next big thing," Apple has refocused on the Macintosh and addressed some of the problems these books mention, though not necessarily with the authors' specific recommendations in mind. These are interesting times for Apple, and I think that Kunkel's vision of the future is overtaking Carlton's.
Paul Chernoff has been a Mac user and Apple watcher since 1985. He spends his days writing databases at The Washingtonian when not busy helping people with QuarkXPress, fixing network problems, working on the Internet, or taking care of the servers. He is lucky to be doing most of his work on a Mac. At home, he balances time between Mac and family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revised Saturday, August 1, 1998 Lawrence I.
Washington Apple Pi