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
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Apple was quickly superseded by IBM at the time.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.