Apple and iPod: the anniversary of an icon

Nestled in the affluent Californian city of Cupertino, the Apple Campus is the corporate headquarters of Apple Inc. Apple, by some estimates the largest publicly traded corporation by market capitalisation, has outgrown this unassuming business park it calls home. Built in the early 1990’s, the site was originally solely Apple’s research and development hub, and named ‘campus’ due to its design mirroring leafy university grounds.
The Apple Campus 2, currently under construction, will be testament to the juggernaut Apple has become. Approved by the Cupertino city council in October 2013, the new campus, described as like a ‘spaceship’, will be centred on a giant circular building. Consisting of 2.8 million square feet of floor space and with costs estimated to be in the hundreds of millions, it will be completed in early 2017. On a scale more similar to a grandiose public work than central corporate offices, it shows how Apple has become not only one of the largest corporations but one of the most recognised global brands.
Apple was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. Created to sell the Apple I, a personal computer kit, which was completely designed and built by Wozniak. Wayne left the next year with the company’s incorporation. The Apple II, a series of personal computer first produced in 1977, was a massive success for the fledgling Apple. Apple II production continued for over 17 years. By 1980 sales had reached over a hundred million dollars. The company was publicly floated the same year and made over three hundred people millionaires.
Continuing its success into the 1980’s, Apple was nevertheless marred by power struggles, shedding its remaining co-founders. Wozniak left in the early 1980’s after a plane crash, whilst Jobs attempted a coup against John Sculley, CEO from 1983 to 1993. Sculley pre-empted Jobs, and with the agreement of the board of directors, Jobs was removed from his managerial role. He officially left the company in 1985.
Apple sales increased in the 1980’s. There is debate about whether this was due to the successful foundations laid by Jobs and Wozniak coming to fruition, or the marketing genius of Sculley. Sculley, who had earlier been CEO of Pepsi-Cola, was leading Apple when its famous ‘1984’ advertisement was aired during a break in the Superbowl XVIII. The advert was created to publicise the new Macintosh personal computer.
The advertisement, set in a dystopian universe, features a woman running towards a giant screen broadcasting a talking ‘Big Brother’ figure. Wearing a vest emblazoned with a stylised Macintosh, she launches a sledgehammer at the screen surprising the drone-like people around her. It ends with a voiceover announcing; “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” The ‘Orwellian threat’ was IBM’s hegemony of the computer market. Apple promised fresh thinking and design, a break from the past. Apple also bought all the advertising space in a special 1984 election issue of the magazine Newsweek. John Sculley later said; ‘It’s unclear whether Apple has an advertising insert in Newsweek or whether Newsweek has an insert in an Apple brochure.”
Apple focused on expensive products, with high profit margins, and consumers leapt at the chance to own new upgrades. But by the end of the 1980’s, competitors had released personal computers with similar functionality to Apple products at lower prices. In particular, Microsoft was successful by offering its Windows software on cheaper personal computers, in contrast to Apple’s more complete and expensive package.
After large financial losses, Steve Jobs was returned as CEO in 1997. The range of software was expanded and under Jobs’ leadership the first Apple stores were opened in 2001. The iPod was released the same year in October. The iPod was largely created due to Apple’s dissatisfaction with the portable music players available at the time, and opportunity presented itself for the now re-energised Apple to expand its reach.
Initial sales were slow, due to Mac-only compatibility and a high price of just under four hundred dollars. But it was successful due to its small size, power and user friendly interface. On October 23rd 2001, Jobs declared ‘no one has really found the recipe yet for digital music.’ But he had the answer. The incorporation of a small hard drive which could hold around a thousand songs was vital. A device that could be easily kept in a person’s pocket could now easily contain a large music collection.
There have now been five different models of iPod made, to cater to different needs and tastes. The sixth generation of the Classic was released in 2007. Unfortunately the pioneer’s time has now come to an end, and the iPod Classic was officially discontinued in 2014.
The iPod’s capabilities expanded over the years. Different models could play videos, games and browse the internet. The introduction of the iTunes Store allowed consumers to buy content in one place and consolidated Apple’s position as market leader in the portable music player market.
By 2007 Apple was making tens of billions of dollars in revenue. In this period around thirty to forty percent of Apple’s revenue came from the iPod. The company was no longer known as simply a purveyor of personal computers. Rather, Apple had become a tech and design giant, offering a range of hardware and software options.
Nevertheless, the iPod and Apple have not been without criticism. Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer which builds the iPod, has been criticized for poor working conditions, explosions and a spate of suicides at its Chinese plants. A 2012 New York Times article was released entitled, ‘In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad,’. It included a quote from a former Apple executive stating: ‘We’re trying really hard to make things better…But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.’ Apple became embroiled in a wider debate about the ethical practices of large multi-national conglomerates. Seeking to assuage doubts, CEO Tim Cook released a statement in February 2012; “We believe that workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we’ve asked the FLA [Fair Labor Association] to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers.”
In the last few years the iPod itself has been victim to falling sales. The iPhone’s music playing capabilities and popularity have sidelined the iPod. This is in combination with the rise of streaming services, which have reduced demand for storing songs on a device’s internal memory. Even Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called the iPod “a declining business.”
Steve Jobs’ death in 2011 was undoubtedly the end of an era at Apple and in the world of technology. But he can be credited with spearheading the creation of the iPod that re-energised the company he founded. This firm footing is visible from its new headquarters in Cupertino to new stores, such as the one in Istanbul – a creation of glass and light that reflects Apple’s design eminence.

Image: Tim Lawrenz

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