If Kurzweil is right and the singularity really is near, then Apple has a better chance than any other technology company to usher it in. Apple has had a breathtaking climb over the past years, putting it in a position to bend the entire technology industry to its will. We don’t even have to imagine what this would look like. Just watch Pixar’s Wall-E. Eve looks just like an iPod. The first picture I found of her on Google even has the Mac desktop background behind her.
So if The Singularity is inevitable, then at least it will be magical and insanely great vs. just sort of cold, big, and menacing like if DEC had gotten to it first.
I can see it now…2025, Moscone Center, Steve Jobs on stage, thousands of people in the audience, journalists panting like Golden Retrievers when you pick up a tennis ball:
“…and that’s iPlane Nano: the thinnest, lightest personal aircraft ever. A thousand horsepower in your pocket, with a 10 hour battery life. And that completes our morning.”
“…But there’s just…one more thing”
<Whoops, Applause, the Golden Retrievers get sweaty palms>
“Apple’s products have always been intuitive, but this next one is different. In fact, this one is so intuitive that it’s going to explain itself. Please welcome to the stage…Apple EVE!”
But it’s worth remembering that all this didn’t seem like Apple’s manifest destiny only a short while ago.
The other day, out of curiosity, I looked up Apple’s historical revenue numbers going all the way back to 1981. Then (again out of curiosity), I penciled in where Steve Jobs left and where he came back in. I found the numbers on Wikipedia. (Hopefully they are correct.) Here’s what it looks like:
Two things stand out to me.
First, that even after the wizard left the castle, Apple continued to grow. And not just for a few months or even for a few years, but for ten more years. Apple went from a couple of billion in revenue to more than $10 Billion in revenue after Jobs left but before he came back.
Second, that after Job’s return, it was seven years before Apple’s revenues began growing again. It was four years after Job’s return that the iPod was introduced. In 2002, you could have made a very plausible argument that after losing $25M in 2001 and five years of flat revenue, Steve had had his chance and it was time to kick the bum out. Or, as one article in January 2001 said, quoting a financial analyst:
“While Apple’s shares may receive a boost from Tuesday’s product announcement, we would not be buyers.”
Apple’s shares were less than $10 then, so that was probably a mistake. But who knew?
I draw a few lessons from all this Apple musing that I’ll leave you to apply:
1. Good (and bad) decisions take a looooong time to play out. To be successful (especially in a large company) you have to have the courage of your convictions and be willing to see your actions through a lot of peaks and valleys and through a lot of naysayers. The flipside is that the naysayers may be right, you may have fired Steve Jobs, and your actions may be just about to catch up with you. 2. Nothing in technology is inevitable. Not even (maybe especially) The Singularity. Just when you hear everyone agreeing on something is the exact time in technology that you need to look out for the opposite. Remember when Windows XP was released in 2001 it was a real winner. Microsoft looked like the obvious frontrunner in the quest for world domination. Microsoft looked invincible in 1997 when Jobs came back to Apple and planted the seed of Microsoft’s toughest competition.
So keep up the good work, even though it may take a long time for it to pay off, and don’t expect intelligent machines to come save the day any time soon.
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Nathan McNeill, at Bomgar
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