Is Apple worth a trillion dollars?

It’s the outcome of a lot of the right decisions

So Apple Computer has become the very first trillion-dollar company. Whoever would have thought?

I did a fair amount of work in Silicon Valley over the years. The running joke in the 1980s was, “What’s the difference between the Boy Scouts and Apple Computer?” And the answer was, “The Boy Scouts have adult supervision.”

Back then, working at Apple wasn’t anything someone would brag about. Their engineers were the ones that couldn’t get into Intel, AMD, Microsoft, Xerox, etc.

The computers were considered toys, even after they came out with the first Mac. But the Mac was a game changer.

I worked for Digital at the time, and we gave a lot of computers to MIT, Ken Olsen’s alma mater. I was doing some work for MIT’s Center for Advanced Engineering Studies and was glad to see them using our PCs in their offices. I was surprised to discover they were buying Macs for home use.

We hired the late Jack Newcomb, associate director of the center, to do some consulting for us. He compared taking delivery on a Mac to a DEC PC. It was painful. You see, the Mac came in one box. All you had to do was unwrap it, plug it in and turn it on.

I had ordered two DEC PCs, one for my office and the other one for my home. The office one was put together by IT while I was in a meeting, and I was good to go. I decided to take the other one home and put it together myself. What a mistake. It came in 17 boxes. I had to borrow my father’s station wagon, so I could make it in one trip, and it took the better part of a Saturday to put it all together.

The good news was that I then understood what our customers were going through. We were making them finish our manufacturing. So, when Newcomb started explaining the simplicity of the Apple experience, I could almost feel a pit in my stomach. Admittedly, the Macs couldn’t do what our PCs could do, but still. An awful lot of users didn’t need all that capability.

At one point, Steve Jobs actually sent a funeral arrangement to Ken Olsen implying the death of Digital. Then we got serious, but it didn’t make a whole lot of difference in the end.

We and our customers didn’t always want to work in the office, so laptops became the rage. We were late getting into that market too, so I bought one from another company. Some of my colleagues bought Apple’s new “portable” computers. They weighed 35 pounds; they bought luggage wagons to lug them through airports. My laptop weighed only 6 pounds and fit in my briefcase.

My boss had thought Apple was the way to go until he saw my little machine. No doubt, their Macs were easier to use, but mine was a lot more practical and easier to lug around.

Well, Apple got their act together and today’s MacBook is a pretty powerful machine. But they didn’t stop there. They came out with the iPod, then the iPhone, the iPad, etc.

If there’s one theme they’ve carried throughout their history, their products are always the easiest to use. The designs are elegant and simple. Steve Jobs had a penchant for creating products we didn’t even know we wanted, but once we saw them, we couldn’t live without them.

I never thought I’d own an Apple product until I saw a nephew’s iPod. He let me play with it, and I bought one the next day. After the iPad was released, I decided I needed one of those too. When I needed a new phone, I was so invested, what else could I get besides an iPhone? I still use a PC as most of my clients do, and I synchronize the data across all the devices.

Today, Digital Equipment no longer exists, and Apple must have gotten some adult supervision along the way to becoming a trillion-dollar company. Their ease of use practices are imitated by everyone, but they’re the leaders. When you buy one of those nice gadgets, it comes in a beautiful package. Becoming a user is a great experience.

At Digital, we thought we made computers for engineers. They were smart enough to figure out how to use them. Apple made computers that anyone could use.

Are there any lessons here for your company?

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or