Do the Folks at Apple Even Have a Clue about What's Wrong?

By Denise Caruso N. Y. Times News Service | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 14, 1997 | Go to article overview

Do the Folks at Apple Even Have a Clue about What's Wrong?


Denise Caruso N. Y. Times News Service, THE JOURNAL RECORD


At a time when Apple Computer most needed to send a message of confidence and clarity, its performance at last week's Macworld exposition in San Francisco offered little evidence that it had begun digging itself out of its very deep hole.

Macworld is a semiannual event where thousands of loyal Apple customers and software developers gather to pore over the Macintosh industry's latest offerings. This time, they also came to gauge whether Apple would survive: Another gloomy financial forecast had sent Apple's stock price plunging the week before.

Instead of providing hope at this critical juncture, Apple's opening-day presentation -- usually a bellwether for the company's direction -- was a disjointed disappointment, indicating that Apple remained a company in chaos. True, technology presentations from the research labs -- always a high point -- were well received. Frank Casanova, director of Apple's research lab and an accomplished stage presence, drew wild applause from the throng in the Moscone Center as he demonstrated a new suite of software technologies. The marvels included a text-to-voice e-mail reader and a remarkable "document summarizer" that could find the most pertinent sentence in a long essay. Casanova also showed a product in development called the Apple Data Detector. These detectors were able to isolate World Wide Web, e-mail and postal addresses from a document -- in this case, a newspaper article -- as well as phone numbers or other such data that the program was able to extract, then automatically file all of them in a data base. But despite the utility and appeal of these and many other advances that Apple announced, Casanova was given less than 15 minutes to showcase them during a rambling three-hour presentation led by Apple's chairman, Gilbert F. Amelio. Amelio chose to devote far more time to a seemingly random sequence of photo opportunities -- with the company founders Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak, actor Jeff Goldblum, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and others. With the exception of Jobs, none had a discernable connection to the task at hand: convincing customers and developers that the Macintosh was still a safe bet. Apple's emphasis on glitz rather than progress, and its lack of a discernable marketing message, has plagued the company over the last year and often made it an industry laughingstock. In Apple's present state of discombobulation, how could anyone not laugh at its product tie-ins with the movie Mission: Impossible? Or with the film Independence Day, in which an Apple Powerbook computer -- which in real life had been recalled because of quality problems - - was supposed to have saved the world from alien attackers? Such marketing messages do not merely miss the mark; they do not even recognize the target. …

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