1996: “Apple revival starts here”

In the News section of MacFormat UK Magazine – Issue 39 – July 1996, there’s a very nice article by Richard Hill and Simon Forrester, commenting Gil Amelio’s keynote at the WWDC 1996. I wanted to reprint here some bits I found to be quite interesting considering the aftermath.

The first bit of trivia I didn’t remember is that the WWDC 1996 was the first Apple event of this kind to go live on the Internet. At the bottom of the page there are some still frames of Amelio speaking, and the caption goes like this: Portions of the Worldwide Developers Conference were broadcast live over the Internet using a system called QuickTime TV.

A text box also summarises the key points of Apple’s plans, outlined by Amelio in his keynote. Here they are:

  • Reliability of Mac OS is main goal
  • Will only be one version of OS, and it is to work on any Mac
  • Mac OS 8 ready for 1997
  • Some Mac OS 8 features to be pulled into System 7.5 update
  • New Macs to have minimum of 12 MB RAM
  • Fewer Mac designs to mean cheaper, more stable machines
  • Apple and IBM to collaborate on portable Mac
  • FireWire connections a standard feature on Macs by 1998
  • Macs to be made ready to use Internet instantly — many will include modems
  • QuickTime Media Layer for Internet — OpenDoc, Java, HTML, PDF
  • Java to be worked into Mac OS, OpenDoc, CyberDog, HyperCard, Newton, Pippin
  • CyberDog 1.0 out now — free
  • Shockwave and Acrobat coming to CyberDog
  • OpenDoc version of Netscape Navigator
  • OpenDoc gets KickStart — video, virtual reality, and 3D
  • Speech recognition plugin for Navigator
  • Bandai’s @World Player (based on Pippin) on sale in September in the US
  • Apple to sell its own version of Pippin
  • Newton’s Internet capabilities to be improved
  • Cocoa — multimedia authoring for kids
  • Apple reorganisation breaks firm into eight divisions, each with its own specific aim:
    1. Macintosh to design and make great Macs
    2. AppleSoft to develop Mac OS and spread it far and wide through licensing
    3. AppleNet to make the most of the Internet throughout Apple products
    4. Imaging: strong printer, scanner and camera support to continue
    5. Information Appliances to develop Pippin and Newton
    6. Alternative Platforms to make Mac work better with other types of computer
    7. Apple Assist to increase quality of customer service, bring catalogues onto the Net
    8. Advanced Technology Group to create cutting-edge projects
  • Amelio’s aim: Apple to break even in 12 months, become stronger than ever in three years.

Skimming through that bulleted list gives you a fairly good idea of the huge differences between that Apple and today’s Apple. And remember that this is a snapshot of an era that was about to be blown away by the return of Steve Jobs. A lot of the projects/products announced were to be cancelled, discontinued, obliterated. Other (few) points remained and were actually carried out as planned: Mac OS has become quite a reliable operating system; Mac OS 8 was indeed shipped a year later, in July 1997 and its minimum requirements were actually 12 MB of onboard RAM. And yes, under Jobs the Mac product line was definitely streamlined — losing, thankfully, all those model numbers after “Power Macintosh” and “PowerBook”. FireWire would be adopted a year later than planned, and Macs — starting from the first Bondi Blue iMac, would indeed be ready to use Internet instantly.

I don’t envy the position Amelio was at the time, and I commend him for trying to save the company in such terrible times. At the same time, comparing Amelio’s keynote with Jobs’ later keynotes (both at Macworld Expo and the WWDC) I can’t but notice the radically opposite approaches of the two CEOs. This is probably the best example of Apple’s style before Jobs: note the many points in the bulleted list that are essentially promises of some future feature or implementation. Announcements of things to come (maybe, maybe not). On the other hand, take any Jobs’ keynote. Each announcement is basically an introduction of some feature, product or technology that is ready to go public after being under wraps for months. And if something’s not ready yet but in the works (e.g. a future Mac OS X release), there’s usually a preview of some of the most important changes or enhancements or novelties. The result is an image of a company that knows what to do and how to do it. A company that has everything under control.

So yes, Apple’s revival really started in 1996, after all. But I guess no one at the time thought it would end up this way, exceeding hopes and expectations.

Two final notes:

1. That is probably the first occurrence of “Cocoa”. Look where Cocoa is now.
2. For those who don’t remember, the result of that “Apple and IBM to collaborate on portable Mac” was of course the PowerBook 2400c, released in the summer of 1997. And still on my personal wishlist.

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