Strong opinions, weakly held

101 ways to save Apple, revisited

Just for fun, in light of Apple’s becoming the most valuable company in the world, I thought I’d take a look at Wired’s June, 1997 cover story 101 Ways to Save Apple. There’s some good advice, some bad advice, and a number of suggestions included to inject some levity into the proceedings.

A lot of the suggestions were to be more like Microsoft and embrace the Windows platform. Apple, obviously, rejected that path and has benefitted greatly from doing so. It’s hard to remember now, but many people thought that Apple should drop their operating system and instead turn to making high end Windows PCs. I think we’re all glad they never went that route.

On to the suggestions on the list:

  1. Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game. Bad advice.
  2. License the Apple name/technology to appliance manufacturers and build GUIs for every possible device – from washing machines to telephones to WebTV. Both good and bad. Apple’s resurgence is due in large part to broadening its product line, but not via licensing.
  3. Start pampering independent software vendors. Good advice. Apple has succeeded by creating platforms developers like, not necessarily by pampering them.
  4. Gil Amelio should steal a page from Lee Iacocca’s book – work for one year without a salary, just to inspire the troops. Bad advice. Steve Jobs earns a $1 salary but this has nothing to do with Apple’s success.
  5. Straighten out the naming convention. Good advice. Apple’s simplified product lines are a competitive advantage.
  6. Apologize. Bad advice.
  7. Don’t disappear from the retail chains. Good advice. Apple outdid this and launched their highly successful retail stores instead.
  8. Buy a song. Whatever.
  9. Fire the people who forecast product demand. Good advice. One of Apple’s greatest advantages is that Tim Cook runs Apple’s operations so efficiently.
  10. Get a great image campaign. Bad advice. Apple’s resurgence has been due to great products, not a great image campaign.
  11. Instead of trying to protect your multicolored ass all the time, try looking forward. Whatever.
  12. Build a fire under your ad agency. Bad advice. The meat of this suggestion is, “People want to know about power (the CPU kind, not George Clinton’s), performance, and price.” This is exactly what Apple does not do.
  13. Exploit every Wintel user’s secret fear that some day they’re going to be thrown into a black screen with a blinking C-prompt. Good advice. “I’m a Mac.”
  14. Do something creative with the design of the box and separate yourselves from the pack. Good advice. Apple went on to design packaging so ingenious that the “unboxing video” was born.
  15. Dump (or outsource) the Newton, eMate, digital cameras, and scanners. Bad advice. They dumped these products in favor of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad — their latter day heirs.
  16. Take better care of your customers. Good advice. See also: Apple stores.
  17. Build some decent applications that the business community will care about. Bad advice. Apple’s success in the applications department has mostly been with creative users, as has always been the case.
  18. Stop being buttoned-down corporate and appeal to the fanatic feeling that still exists for the Mac. Bad advice.
  19. Get rid of the cables. Go wireless. Good advice. Apple has done as much as anyone to de-clutter our desks.
  20. Tap the move toward push media by creating a network computer. Bad advice. Probably the most dated piece of advice on the list.
  21. Sell yourself to IBM or Motorola, the PowerPC makers. Bad advice.
  22. Create a new kids’ computer, an upgradable Wintel-compatible machine. Bad advice. Really, really bad advice.
  23. Create a new logo. Strange advice. Apple introduced the monochrome logo in 1998.
  24. Pay cartoonist Scott Adams $10 million to have Dilbert fall in love with a Performa repairwoman. Whatever.
  25. Portables, portables, portables. Good advice. Compelling portable devices are almost entirely responsible for Apple’s ridiculous growth.
  26. If you sell it, make it! Bad advice. Apple still can’t manufacture enough devices to meet demand. They seem to be doing OK.
  27. Relocate the company to Bangalore and make it cheap, cheap, cheap. Bad advice.
  28. Don’t lose your sense of humor. Bad advice. And besides, when did Apple have a sense of humor?
  29. Work closely with Hewlett-Packard, Casio, or someone who understands power management. Good advice. Except that Apple has become the industry leader in power management without help from those other guys.
  30. Reach forward by reaching back. Good advice. This is a suggestion to bolster the AppleLoan program. You can apply for credit right through the online Apple Store.
  31. Build a PDA for less than $250 that actually does something: a) cellular email b) 56-channel TV c) Internet phone. Bad advice. Turns out you can charge more than that if your product is awesome.
  32. Advice to Gil Amelio: shorter speeches, tighter pants. Remember Gil Amelio?
  33. Change the visual presentation of marketing/advertising to signal that real change is under way. Bad advice. None of this really matters.
  34. Port the OS to the Intel platform, with its huge amount of investment in hardware, software, training, and experience. Good advice. Switching to Intel was a huge, positive move for Apple.
  35. Get MkLinux and BeOS to run on PowerBooks. Bad advice. Not a bad idea, but this never had a chance of changing Apple’s fortunes.
  36. Clone the PowerBook. Bad advice. Apple succeeded by doing the opposite.
  37. Take advantage of NeXT’s easy and powerful OpenStep programming tools to entice a new generation of Mac software developers. Good advice. Inevitable, though, once Apple decided to base OS X on NextStep.
  38. Make it easier for ISVs to make applications for both Apple and Wintel environments – if not at the desktop, then certainly at the server. Bad advice. Mac ports of Windows apps have always been terrible. Apple did gain a lot of leverage by making Unix the underlying platform for OS X, though.
  39. Build a laptop that weighs 2 pounds. Good advice. The original MacBook Air weight 3 pounds and was introduced in 2008.
  40. Cash in on millennium fever. Bad advice.
  41. Arrange venture funding for new, cutting-edge multimedia publishers – this is where you shine and where the public will become interested again. Bad advice. Multimedia was already marked for death when this article was published.
  42. Organize a telethon. Whatever.
  43. Remain committed to the openDVD Consortium, addressing the issues of implementing digital versatile-disc technology. Bad advice. Who cares?
  44. Continue your research in voice recognition. Bad advice. Still irrelevant.
  45. Don’t raise the Mac OS licensing fee. Bad advice. Apple killed licensing of the Mac OS in July, 1997.
  46. Stop wasting time on frivolities like Spartacus, the 20th-anniversary Mac. Good advice. Apple has gotten out of the business of esoteric, small volume form factors entirely. I think the cube killed this off once and for all.
  47. Work on ways to make your lower-end models truly upgradable. Bad advice. Apple introduced the iMac in 1998.
  48. Get Ben & Jerry’s to name a flavor after you. Whatever.
  49. Bring back Andy Hertzfeld and the other original Mac folks. Good advice. Apple just brought back Steve Jobs instead.
  50. Give Steve Jobs as much authority as he wants in new product development. Good advice. Steve Jobs became Apple CEO in September, 1997.
  51. Speak to the consumer. Good advice. Apple product announcements have become some of the most closely observed events in the tech industry.
  52. Return to the heady days of yore by insisting that Steve Jobs regrow his beard. Whatever.
  53. Recharge your strategy for Europe, where the PC market penetration is lower than in the US and the population is educated and interested in high tech. Not qualified to assess this one.
  54. Sell off the laser printer business. Good advice. Margins in the printer business disappeared over the past decade or so.
  55. Give the company that buys the printer business a contract to manufacture printers with the Apple trademark. Bad advice. The printer business is irrelevant.
  56. Stick to your schedule. Bad advice. Apple released the first developer preview of OS X in August, 1997, the “public beta” in September, 2000, and the first production release in March, 2001. They still survived.
  57. Bring back John Sculley. Whatever.
  58. Create dollar incentives to attract software vendors to write for the upcoming Rhapsody platform. Bad advice. Bribing developers to code for your platform is not a strategy.
  59. Invest heavily in Newton technology, which is one area where Microsoft can’t touch you. Bad advice. OS X was the future.
  60. Abandon the Mach operating system you just acquired and run Windows NT kernel instead. Bad advice. Really, really bad advice.
  61. Ink a promotion/development deal with Shaquille O’Neal; introduce designer Shaqintosh model. Whatever.
  62. Build a computer that doesn’t crash. Good advice.
  63. Make Java work on your OS. Then develop an enterprise computing strategy in partnership with Sun. Good advice. One reason the Mac stayed relevant in the early OS X years was that it was the ideal platform for writing Web applications that would eventually be deployed on Unix servers.
  64. Team up with Sony, which wants to get into the computer business in a big way – think Sony MacMan. Bad advice.
  65. Roll out the Mac Plus again as a hip retro machine. Good advice. Isn’t this what the iMac was?
  66. Get the top systems integrators to push NeXT’s WebObjects as the ultimate intranet/Internet development environment. Bad advice. Apple actually sort of tried this but open source platforms won out.
  67. Tighten the focus on your publishing niche – both print and electronic – and seek to dominate it in every way. Bad advice.
  68. Retain your Apple Fellows at all costs. Bad advice. People who aren’t developing products aren’t really that useful.
  69. Change your name to Snapple and see if you can dupe Quaker Oats into buying you. Whatever.
  70. Simplify your PC product line. Good advice.
  71. Become a graphic design company and dominate your niche the way Sun and Silicon Graphics do. Bad advice. Turns out Silicon Graphics didn’t have much of a future at all, and neither did Sun, in the end.
  72. Try the industry-standard serial port plug. Bad advice.
  73. Rename the company Papaya and begin an aggressive South Pacific marketing campaign. Whatever.
  74. Solidify the management team. Good advice. Steve Jobs took over as CEO in September, 1997. Tim Cook joined the company in March, 1998. Jonathan Ive joined Apple in 1992. Scott Forstall came over from NeXT. Phil Schiller joined Apple in 1997.
  75. Speed sells. Push your advantage on the speed of the processor. Bad advice. Apple moved to Intel, and competition based on hardware specs became a thing of the past.
  76. Make damn sure that Rhapsody runs on an Intel chip. Write a Windows NT emulator for Rhapsody’s Intel version. Good advice. Apple moved to Intel in 2005. Virtualization has made it easy to run Windows software on Macs.
  77. Lose the cybercafés idea. Good advice, quickly heeded.
  78. Turn Claris loose so it can do some real damage. Bad advice.
  79. Exploit your advantage in the K-12 education market. Good advice, in theory. In the end I don’t think it mattered much.
  80. Maintain existing loyalty at all costs. Use incentives like free upgrades and stock certificates. Bad advice.
  81. Merge with Sega and become a game company. Bad advice.
  82. Give the first Apple made exclusively for Windows a cheeky name. Bad advice.
  83. Develop proprietary programs that run only on Macs. Good advice. Keynote, Final Cut Pro, and Aperture are all good examples here.
  84. Effectively communicate your game plan. Good advice. File under “obvious” though.
  85. Quit making each Mac in a platform-specific case, with platform-specific parts. Bad advice. Well, it’s obviously bad if you read this whole item.
  86. Organize a very large bake sale. Whatever.
  87. Price the CPUs to sell. Bad advice. Apple never really went cheap.
  88. Acknowledge that there are people with repetitive stress injuries. Good advice. Apple didn’t follow it, though.
  89. Create a chemical that cleans the Mac’s pale gray plastic. Bad advice. Apple killed off the gray plastic computer instead.
  90. Design a desktop model – call it La Dolce Vita – with a built-in cappuccino maker. Whatever.
  91. Start a new special projects group led by either Jobs or another passionate and creative designer to create the next “insanely great” technology. Good advice. Apple basically just turned the whole company into this special projects group.
  92. With each new Mac, include a CD-ROM that explains the Apple family tree and future plans. Bad advice. How many units would this have ever sold?
  93. Develop a way to program that requires no scripting or coding. Bad advice. Unrealistic.
  94. Maintain differentiation between Wintel and Apple. Good advice. Probably the best piece of advice on the list.
  95. Fight back. Stand up for yourself with ads that respond to the negative press. Bad advice. Better to build things that don’t earn the negative press in the first place.
  96. Partner with Oracle, using its technology for a backend database with your friendly face. Bad advice. I can’t think of a worse partner for Apple than Oracle.
  97. Have Pixar make 3001, A Space Odyssey, with HAL replaced by a Mac. Whatever.
  98. Testimonials. Good advice. Apple’s Switch ad campaign is basically this. Those ads were incredibly effective.
  99. Reincorporate as a nonprofit research foundation. Funny.
  100. Build a second graphics/video product based on the connection with Pixar (and therefore with Disney). Bad advice. This wouldn’t have saved the company.
  101. Don’t worry. You’ll survive. It’s Netscape we should really worry about. Nailed it.

I’m not the only person who has taken this on. Derek Warren compiled a detailed look back in February. I found his piece after I wrote this one.


  1. Fun piece! I love your “whatever”‘s.

    Merge with Sega and become a game company. Bad advice.

    iPod Touch, Game Center. Apple provides a significant gaming platform in some ways. Sega makes games for iPhone and iPod Touch.

    Develop a way to program that requires no scripting or coding. Bad advice. Unrealistic.

    Automator is a tool to allows for programming file and application manipulations, which I think count as programming.

    HyperCard was this in the more distant past.

  2. i think 10 was validated by the ‘Think Different’ campaign, so I’d file that under good advice, though I’m not sure of the timing between it and this article (which was probably written in April 1997). Wikipedia has a writeup, of course: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_Different

  3. Have Pixar make 3001, A Space Odyssey, with HAL replaced by a Mac.

    Didn’t save the company, but this is basically WALL-E with MacInTalk voicing the evil computer.

  4. Great post! A couple of notes:

    I would argue that #11 is actually good advice that Apple followed. Remember the iPod mini? As Gruber put it, most companies are terrified of change but Apple is terrified of stagnation.

    As for #97, WALL•E is not too far off.

    (oh, and in #14, I think you mean ingenious 🙂

  5. My letter to the editor of Wired got published regarding this story. I basically said we’ll always have the os, no matter what.

  6. A lot of this advice was meant to be tongue-in-cheek (I think), and looking at it that way, some of the “bad advice”, reinterpreted, turn out to be pretty good advice.

    For example, regarding #27, “Relocate the company to Bangalore …,” if you interpret that as “move all manufacturing to China and some of the advanced research to Taiwan,” it was good advice, and has paid off handsomely with $70 billion cash in the bank.

    Regarding #8, “Buy a song”: iTunes, anyone? 6 Billion songs downloaded? Largest music retailer behind Walmart?

    33, “Change the visual presentation of marketing/advertising …”: Yeah it matters, and it worked in pushing more products than just having great products. The “I’m a PC, I’m a Mac” ads finally convinced me, a die-hard Windows user, to look at Macs and iPods. The iPad and iPhone ads had me lusting after those devices. Those ads do work.

  7. “A lot of this advice was meant to be tongue-in-cheek (I think)”

    If you look at the contributor credits, that becomes pretty clear.

    I’d agree with Sherif Tariq and Derek Warren that point 1 — “[y]ou’re out of the hardware game” — was good advice that Apple followed. In 1997, Apple was still building its machines in Elk Grove, and its success over the past decade owes a lot to how it reinvented its supply chain and sourcing: exacting specs, lots of control over parts availability, but a hands-off approach to the actual assembly.

  8. 44 – You call voice recognition irrelevant? What about the Siri acquisition and the rumored dealings with Nuance?

  9. Is voice recognition irrelevant in 2011? No. It’s getting there. Did it play a role in Apple’s recovery? No.

  10. I think what is most interesting about this list is seeing where Apple has come from since 1997. 14 years ago, this was a mess of a company. I had forgotten about several items on this list. Jobs really did make some massive changes, and had some luck, in this period. And what a behemoth it has become.

  11. I feel like you were a bit impulsive with a lot of these. For instance 31…isn’t the cheapest iPhone 4 $200? As well as the iPod touch (barring the 64 gb), which is the closest thing to a strict PDA which really exists anymore (and it can watch tv episode and surf the internet, per the description). Other ones, too, like the marketing ones you were quick to dismiss. One of the reasons Apple is so successful is it’s advertising. The iPad isn’t “a personal tabloid-form computer with touch screen,” it’s “Magic.”

  12. 15 says dump the Newton, 59 says invest in it. Pick one?

  13. I confess to being glib. There were 101 suggestions to evaluate, after all. But I would submit that the reason the iPad is magic lies not in the way it is marketed, but rather in the experience of using it. Apple’s marketing clearly points at that experience, but if that were unsupported by the actual use of the product, everyone would just make fun of Apple’s dishonest marketing spin.

  14. Enjoyable, but it seems like most of your advice ratings are just hindsight bias. For example:

    Get a great image campaign. Bad advice. Apple’s resurgence has been due to great products, not a great image campaign.

    …Okay, but that has little to do with whether or not it was good advice at the time. I think where you say “bad advice,” you mean to say “this didn’t help Apple resurgence” or “Apple didn’t do this.”

  15. I don’t know—your glib rejections are almost as useless as the advice itself. Anyone can say that something is a bad idea, the real effort comes from saying why it is a bad idea. Oh but this wasn’t one of those posts, I hear you cry. Then what was it?

    1. Develop a way to program that requires no scripting or coding. Bad advice. Unrealistic. — Not really… Quartz Composer from Developer tools lets you program with plugging wires into sockets, great programming tool for all sorts of screen savers or visualisers.
  16. Wired have always been fucking clueless. Tech journalism is full of people who couldn’t hack it in tech.

  17. I’m pretty sure 26. is about not re-badging and selling OEM goods.

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