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How Apple Lost its Way and Found it Again

We all know Steve Jobs saved Apple. How did he do it? Well, it was a lot of things, actually. But the one I think was the biggest can be seen by looking at the number of different computer models Apple was releasing.

Apple started with one product.  The Apple I.  Steve Wozniak built this computer and was basically giving the plans away at the home-brew computer club meetings. Steve Jobs saw that people didn’t have the time or patience to build them and proposed that they sell the boards to make it easier. They started Apple Computer and started selling bare boards that could be combined with a keyboard and a TV and turned into a computer.

The Apple II was the first computer they made that had everything in one case. It had color output, which was unheard of at the time. They were way ahead of everyone else.  They tried to make an Apple III, but that computer was designed by committee and never really took off.

So according to the Timeline of Apple Products on Wikipedia:

1976: (1) Apple I


1977: (1) Apple II

1979: (1) Apple II Plus

So, in the 70’s, they released 3 computer models in 4 years. (.75 models per year)  This was really driven by the fact that they didn’t have enough money to do much more, not necessarily because they wanted to keep things simple. As they began to make more money, they kept trying to come up with something to replace the Apple II, but nothing really stuck (except for updated versions of the Apple II) until they released Macintosh.

1980: (1) Apple III

1981: (1) Apple III Revised

1983: (3) Apple IIe, Apple Lisa, Apple III Plus

1984: (5) Apple Lisa 2, Macintosh (128k), Apple Iic, Macintosh 512k, Macintosh 128k (Revised)

1985: (2) Macintosh XL, Apple IIe Enhanced



1986: (3) Macintosh Plus, Macintosh 512Ke, Apple IIGS

1987: (4) Macintosh Plus (Platinum), Apple IIe Platinum, Macintosh SE, Macintosh II

1988: (2) Apple IIc Plus, Macintosh IIx

1989: (5) Macintosh SE/30, Macintosh IIcx, Macintosh IIci, Macintosh Portable, Apple IIGS (1 MB ROM)

So, in the 80’s, they released 26: 12 before Jobs left and 14 after Jobs left. (2.6 per year) Still fairly managable from a product line standpoint.

Then things just got nuts!

1990: (4) Macintosh IIIfx, Macintosh LC, Macintosh Classic, Macintosh IIsi

1991: (7) Macintosh Portable (backlit screen), Macintosh Classic II, Quadra 700, Quadra 900, Powerbook 100, Powerbook 140, Powerbook 170

1992: (9) Macintosh LC II, Quadra 950, Powerbook 145, Macintosh IIvi, Macintosh IIvx, Powerbook 160, Powerbook 180, Powerbook Duo 210, Powerbook Duo 230

1993: (24) Macintosh LC III, Macintosh LC III+, Macintosh Color Classic, Centris 610, Centris 650, Quadra 800, Powerbook 165c, Workgroup Server 80, Workgroup Server 95, Powerbook 145b, Powerbook 180c, Macintosh LC 520, Workgroup Server 60, Centris 660AV, Quadra 660 AV, Quadra 840 AV, PowerBook 165, Macintosh Color Classic II, Macintosh TV, Quadra 605, Quadra 610, Quadra 650, Powerbook Duo 250, Powerbook Duo 270c

1994: (18) Macintosh LC 550, Macintosh LC 575, Power Macintosh 6100, Power Macintosh 7100, Power Macintosh 8100, Workgroup Server 6150, Workgroup Server 8150, Workgroup Server 9150, Powerbook 520, Powerbook 520c, Powerbook 540, Powerbook 540c, Powerbook 550, Powerbook Duo 280, Powerbook Duo 280c, Quadra 630, Poweroobk 150, Pippin

1995: (14) Power Macintosh 6200, Power Macintosh 6300, Macintosh LC 580, Power Macintosh 5200, Performa 5200, Power Macintosh 9500, Power Macintosh 7200, Power Macintosh 7500, Power Macintosh 8500, Powerbook 190, Power Macintosh 5300, Performa 5300, Powerbook 5300, Powerbook Duo 2300c

1996: (13) Apple Network Server 500, Apple Network Server 700/150, Workgroup Server 7250, Workgroup Server 8550, Performa 5260, Performa 5300, Performa 5400, Power Macintosh 7600, Apple Network Server 700/200, Performa 6380, Performa 6400, Power Macintosh 4400, Powerbook 1400

Jobs comes back as Interim CEO


1997: (13) Power Macintosh 5500, Power Macintosh 6500, Power Macintosh 7300, Power Macintosh 8600, Power Macintosh 9600, Powerbook 3400, Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, Workgroup Server 7350, Workgroup Server 9650, Powerbook 2400c, Power Macintosh G3 Desktop, Power Macintosh G3 Minitower, Powerbook G3

Even though Jobs came back in 1996, things were in motion and he was unable to make many changes in 1997.  So, if we look at 1990-1997, we see Apple releasing 102 computer models in 7 years! That’s an average of more than 15 per year!

Apple’s 1993 releases!

200px-Powerbook_duo_2300c 220px-Quadra_650-2 220px-Macintosh_Quadra_610-1 250px-Macintosh_quadra_605_warm 220px-Macintosh_TV 300px-Macintosh_Color_Classic-1 220px-PowerBook-76625-1 KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Macintosh-centris-660av 220px-Quadra_650-1 220px-LC520 250px-Apple_Macintosh_PowerBook_180c 180px-Macintosh_PowerBook_140 200px-Powerbook_duo_2300c150px-Quadra_950_hero 220px-Apple_mac_quadra_800-1 220px-PowerBook-76625 220px-Apple_mac_quadra_800 220px-Quadra_650 220px-Macintosh_Quadra_610 300px-Macintosh_Color_Classic 300px-Apple_macintosh_lcII

The costs of that had to be staggering. From an engineering standpoint, an inventory standpoint, a support standpoint, and most importantly, from a consumer standpoint.

I’m standing at a computer store looking at my selection in 1994. Not only are there 18 models from this year to look at, but there are likely several of the 24 models from last year still available.

Should I get last year’s LC 520?


Or this year’s LC 550, or 575?

LC550Front 575

Or, maybe I should be looking at the Power Macintosh 9500, 7200, 7500 or 5300?

5200 675b37e09bb194fc1bfb4200c3612804_600x564_300x282 snap16 powermac9500

It was a complete disaster, and Jobs knew it.

Oh, and this is over and above the clones that were releasing very similar versions of almost the exact same hardware that Apple was competing with. Jobs killed the clones too, which was ultimately a good thing for Apple, but not nearly as important as his other big move.

He came back and said we have 4 computers.  Professional and consumer laptops and Professional and consumer desktops. Things really calmed down after that.

1998: (4) Power Macintosh G3 AIO, Macintosh Server G3, Powerbook G3 series, iMac G3

1999: (7) Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White), Macintosh Server G3 (Blue & White), Powerbook G3 Lombard, iBook, Macintosh Server G4, iMac Slot Loading, Power Macintosh G4 Graphite

2000: (3) Powerbook (Pismo), Power Macintosh G4 Cube, iBook (Firewire)

2001: (4) Powerbook G4 Titanium, iBook White, Power Macintosh G4 Quicksilver, Server G4 Quicksilver

2002: (7) iMac G4 15″, iBook (14″), eMac, Xserve, iMac G4 17″, Power Macintosh G4 MDD, Macintosh Server G4 MDD

2003: (10) Powerbook G4 Aluminum 12″, Powerbook Aluminum 17″, Xserve Slot Loading, Xserve Cluster Node, Power Macintosh G5, Powerbook G4 Aluminum (15″), iBook G4 12″, iBook G4 14″, iMac G4 20″

2004: (5) XServe G5, Xserve Cluster Node G5, Power Macintosh G5 FX, iMac G5 17″, iMac G5 20″

2005: (2) Mac Mini, Power Macintosh G5 Dual core

2006: (9) iMac Early 2006, Macbook Pro 15″, Mac Mini Core Solo, Mac Mini Core Duo, Macbook Pro 17″, Macbook, Mac Pro, Xserve Intel, iMac Mid 2006

2007: (2) iMac mid 2007, Mac Mini mid 2007

2008: (11) Xserve Early 2008, Mac Pro Early 2008, Macbook Air, Macbook Early 2008, Macbook Pro, Early 2008 15″, Macbook Pro Early 2008 17″, iMac, Macbook Air Late 2008, Macbook Late 2008 White, Macbook Late 2008 Aluminum, Macbook Pro Late 2008 15″

2009: (12) Macbook Pro Early 2009 17″, Macbook Early 2009 White, Mac Mini, iMac Early 2009, Mac Pro Early 2009, XServe 2009, Macbook Mid 2009, Macbook Pro mid 2009, Macbook Pro Mid 2009, Macbook Air Mid 2009, iMac Late 2009, Macbook Late 2009, Mac Mini Late 2009

So, 12 years, 69 computers, 5.75 per year.  But, that number is inflated by speed-bumps and screen size differences.  Sure, those take engineering, inventory and support infrastructure, but from a consumer standpoint, in those 12 years, Apple introduced 12 computer models:

Power Mac, iMac, Powerbook, iBook, Cube, Xserve, eMac, Mac Mini, Macbook Pro, Mac Pro, Macbook Air, Macbook

Sure, the form factors, screen sizes, and specs changed for each of these, but they created a consistent brand of models that made it easier for consumers to figure out what their options were and made it easy to compare and contrast and make a decision.

Computers Released by Year

Computers Released Per Year

Simplifying the products allowed consumers to “get” it and made inventory management and engineering costs much more manageable.

Or not…


Categories: Apple, Computer Tags: , ,
  1. February 20, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Reblogged this on iOS Affairs and commented:
    This isn’t my usual type of fare for iOS Affairs, but this post by aucontrary makes some really good points about how Steve Jobs was able to turn a mess into what we know and love as Apple today. I just thought I’d give you some good reading since I’m not able to write a post today. I’m just starting a full restore on my iPad, which I’ll explain about tomorrow.

  2. February 21, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Good Post…………

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