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Business motivation

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2004

A friend of mine has always maintained that if Apple had emerged from the 80s as the dominant PC company instead of Microsoft, Apple would be the 800-pound gorilla of the technology world and we’d all be grousing about Apple and MS would be playing up their position as David to their Goliath (much as Apple does now). But I don’t think that ever would have happened because, as Steve Jobs explains in this interview with Business Week, Apple was not about sales and market share but products and innovation (emphasis mine):

I used to be the youngest guy in every meeting I was in, and now I’m usually the oldest. And the older I get, the more I’m convinced that motives make so much difference. HP’s primary goal was to make great products. And our primary goal here is to make the world’s best PCs — not to be the biggest or the richest.

We have a second goal, which is to always make a profit — both to make some money but also so we can keep making those great products. For a time, those goals got flipped at Apple, and that subtle change made all the difference. When I got back, we had to make it a product company again.

It took Apple (and Jobs) awhile to come to this realization and recognize it as a strength — hindsight is 20/20 and it certainly helped that Apple just couldn’t compete on price, the primary factor in how people choose consumer electronics — but now that they’ve realized it, they’re back on track. Apple is basically a luxury computer and software company, akin to Gucci, Bang & Olufsen, and Calphalon in their respective industries. They aim to produce well-designed innovative products, provide a high level of service, and charge a premium for it. Much has been made of Apple’s paltry OS/hardware market share, but when you think about it, when a designer label can capture even 5% of a market that competes heavily on price, that’s an impressive achievement.