Infographic Of The Day: The Rebirth Of Apple's Product Strategy

Another fabulous chart by Pop Chart Lab illustrates the rise, fall, and rebirth of the tech icon.

People often talk about Apple’s rebirth under Steve Jobs as if it were purely a matter of design innovation and brilliant products. (I know: We’re guilty of this too.) But the fact is that the Second Coming of Jobs owed a large part of its success to some pretty savvy corporate strategy.

A perfect illustration of this comes thanks to Pop Chart Lab’s newest poster, "The Insanely Great History of Macintosh." Look closely, and you can actually see three distinct phases of Apple’s overall product strategy


[Click to view larger]

The first phase, of course, is quite simple. In creating a computer for the masses, Apple really focused on a couple of products: The Macintosh and the Apple II. Which is to say, its offerings were, above all else, simple and clear:

Apple was quickly superseded by IBM at the time. But its brand remained fairly clear and distinct throughout--in no small part because its product line was so simple. It’s easy to brand a company when they only make a couple of things.

Compare that to what happened during Apple’s darkest days. At the time, Dell and Gateway and IBM were all flooding the market with overwhelming amounts of options. The business strategy behind that was hard to argue against: Each of these companies sought greater market share by offering enough products to fit every conceivable consumer.

That’s probably fine in the short- to medium-run, if you’re a behemoth in your industry. But it makes less sense if you’re a company like Apple, just barely surviving on the periphery. And yet this is exactly what they did. Look at this ridiculous number of computers:

And then Steve Jobs came back. Sure, he refocused the company on designing great products. But he also pulled off the corporate strategy that he succinctly described as "stopping all the crap." As a B-school professor might say, he streamlined the product offering. And he did so not in a span of years, but months. Look how radically simple the product pipeline gets after 1996:

That simplicity, of course, was again key to Apple’s branding efforts. The could show off the Macbook or the iMac, and be guaranteed that a customer, looking for those products, would see those and nothing else. Not a million other options. Not a zillion other variations that made her wonder if the computer that first piqued her interest actually existed.

It’s a fascinating story of product strategy--and it’s all between the lines of a superb, elegantly uncomplicated chart of Apple’s product history.

Click here to buy this chart for $20.

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16 Comments

  • Kevin Lenard

    An amazing side note to the development history was Apple's 1987 ad for the iPad.  I have no idea if there was a skunkworks team working on it in secret through 1990, but you'd have to assume so.  Watch the ad/infomercial: http://advertisingbusinessmode...

  • Mac128

    Quicktake is not the only product line left off (which ironically doesn't resurface until the iPhone). The most important early consumer products Apple launched vis-a-vis this chart, were the PowerCD and Powered Speakers – the precursor to the iPod and iTunes ... neither of which was original to the iPod, and in fact have a rich legacy rooted in the Apple II, particularly the IIGS. These products also pre-date the Newton family, none of which has anything to do with the iPod.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T...

  • John

    Infographic is missing the White Intel iMacs.  Because I have one.

    Also I remember the Hell that was 1993-4 when every time you thought of buying a Mac you had to worry that a replacement model would immediately come out and make yours obsolete.

  • Pop Chart Lab

    Patrick from Pop Chart Lab here. In response to a few of the comments below, Fastco actually worked from a not-quite-final version of the chart file. You'll see a lot of the errors were addressed in the final version on our site.

    Re the pre-PowerBook portable, we have that on there. It's the Macintosh Portable. We have it in the desktop category rather than the laptop category because it was a bit too large to be an actual laptop. More like a desktop that could be moved around. If I'm remembering correctly I believe it was a Mac SE in a smaller case.

    Re the QuickTake, we decided to leave off the non-core Apple products like their digital cameras, the PowerCD, the Pippin, etc. simply because there wasn't enough space to fit them on an 18x24 sheet of paper. If we do a version on a larger sheet someday we'll definitely include all these.

  • Emilio

    Nice infographics, but I agree, some bits are missing completely.
    LC and SI Macs don't have the same form factor.
    The Apple Network Server is completely missing.
    Sawtooth cases for the first G4 Powermacs?
    Xserves?

  • Granite2011

    There was a portable computer that preceeded the PowerBook. It was big, had a full-size keyboard and a trackball.

  • Andrea Negrini

    Close, but no cigar. Sorry.

    - It lacks the whole QuickTake line
    - It's full of typos (e.g. PowerMac 9400 instead of 6400, MessagePad 21000, etc.)- It lacks a large part of the first PPC PowerMacs
    - The first iPod was simply called iPod, non iPod Classic
    - It lack a large part of the subsequent models (e.g. the four-button model, the click-wheel model)