Apple drops hardware. Or does it?

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 07/91 item 01 - scanned

I went to the virtual reality show last week, where I came across a dingy little booth signposted 'Ultimate Reality'. All I could see on the stand was a strange looking machine, rather like a black Sinclair C5 with a lid on. As I watched, the lid opened and this rather untidy man climbed out. "It does work, you know," he said. "What is it?" I asked, thinking it was one of those Californian meditation tanks. "It's the ultimate reality machine. You can get in there and go where you want, in space or time. Or both if you want to." "I don't believe you," I said as I gingerly climbed inside. No sooner was I comfortable than the old man slammed the lid shut. I suddenly found myself in the, presumably virtual, reality of the Wang Theatre in Boston. Someone on the stage was speaking.

"It all started three years ago, in 1991" said a virtual John Sculley, Apple CEO. "After we launched our new low-end machines and really started to get market penetration, our backers began to panic and forced us to lay off staff. Well, that was the moment when we finally admitted to ourselves we were in the wrong business. After all, anyone can manufacture hardware. After that fateful meeting with Sony and IBM in the summer of '91, we decided to withdraw from computer manufacture. Looking at the results since, we know we did the right thing.

"Licence fees for our operating system alone have gone through the roof. It seems there's hardly a manufacturer on this earth who wants to stick with the old Microsoft stuff Apart from Amstrad, that is. And, of course, our hardware patents are still bringing a healthy income, even though third party manufacturers are gradually replacing our original designs with their own. Sales of Claris application software have never been better. Their ability to respond quickly to new operating system developments is unmatched in this industry. As everyone knows, this is not the result of any inside knowledge - they're simply a responsive company. They come to developer conferences like everyone else but, perhaps it's a culture thing, they tune in more quickly than the others.

"Once IBM agreed to manufacture our old high end machines and Sony to make our low-end machines, other manufacturers started to clamour for a piece of the action. I believe there are now over 150 manufacturers of Mac machines. I honestly don't know what made me try and stay proprietary for so long. Our strength was clearly in software - I don't know why I was so possessive about the hardware. Since the change was completed in mid 1992, Apple has flourished in its new role as software developer to the world. OK, so Microsoft is still a serious threat on the application front and IBM keeps its presence felt with OS/2 4.0, but that's how it should be.

"The research side of Apple has taken on a huge number of human interface projects for companies as far apart as Peking and Manchester. Revenue from that source and subsequent licence fees currently bring in more than a third of our annual profit. In fact, our profit is more or less evenly generated by the three operating companies HumanFace, AppleSystems and Claris. People ask me what we're going to do next. (They've stopped asking what we're going to do to NeXT. Ha Ha. We've already done it.) When you're the most successful software company, it's difficult to know what to do next, except more of the same.

"We know software drives this industry. It's the only thing customers want. Since we are the leaders in software and human interface design, it's natural that our attention should turn to the opportunities in bespoke software and application development management. Until now, electronic communications have been stilted affairs conducted either textually or in self-conscious two-dimensional groups. Consider our experience in virtual reality and then ask yourselves, how could this be applied to remote conferencing? You will then have a glimmer of our next major business area.

"I think I'd better stop there, before I give too much away. Are there any questions?" "Yes. My name is Richard Dyce, and I am chairman of the MacUser group of companies. First of all, I'd like to thank you for your part in making me exceedingly rich. But, more to the point, is there any truth in the rumour that you are currently trying to buy out the management consultancy arms of Ernst and Anderson, and Peat Marwick Coopers? And that this is how you plan to build your project management skills?"

Just as Sculley started to answer, I heard a voice from a great distance saying, "He's coming round. I'd be more careful closing the lid of this contraption in future..."