Apple: From Garage Upstart to Global Giant

1 minutes reading time
Published 19 Jun 2024
Author: Emil Persson
Reviewed by: Peter Westberg

Apple is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most famous and influential companies in the world. The story of how the company evolved into what it is today is one of relentless and ruthless pursuit of innovation, meticulous attention to detail, and the leadership of Steve Jobs. What started in an unassuming garage would eventually grow to become one of the most dominant tech companies globally. This is the story of how Apple came to be, and the products that changed the world.

Key Insights

  • The founders: The two founders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, each brought a unique and complementary skillset to the company.

  • The Apple II: The Apple II, introduced in 1977, featured an integrated keyboard and color graphics. It quickly became dominant in the personal computer market and was instrumental in establishing Apple's early success.

  • Financial struggles: By the mid-1990s, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy. Mismanagement, lack of coherent strategy, and failed products like the Newton contributed to its decline.

  • The iPhone revolution: The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 revolutionized the mobile phone industry, establishing Apple as a dominant force.

  • Design and integration: Apple's focus on simplicity, design, and ease of use has set it apart from competitors. The seamless integration of its devices and services creates a cohesive ecosystem, fostering unparalleled brand loyalty among its customers.

  • Innovation, innovation, innovation: The company has always had innovation as its core focus, something which has been absolutely instrumental in its success.

Apple is Founded

Apple was founded on April 1, 1976, by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, a trio who had worked together at Atari during the early 70s. Steve Wozniak had a passion for creating electronic devices and in 1975 he began working on what would eventually become the Apple I computer. Wozniak was a member of the Homebrew Computer Club, a hobbyist group in Silicon Valley, where he demonstrated his prototype. Jobs was also a member, and he immediately saw the commercial potential of the device and convinced Wozniak that the two should start a company to manufacture and sell the computer.

The company was founded in Los Altos, California, where Jobs and Wozniak started building the first Apple computers in the garage of Jobs' family home. This highly ordinary garage became the birthplace of what would eventually become one of the world's most valuable and influential technology companies.

Ronald Wayne joined the duo as a co-founder and was given a 10% stake in order to be able to act as a tiebreaker between Jobs and Wozniak, who frequently disagreed on everything from business matters to design philosophy. Wayne drafted the original partnership agreement, contributed to the early administrative tasks, and even designed the original logo (which was changed just a year later).

The very first logo of Apple, then Apple Computer Co.
Apple's first logo, designed by Ronald Wayne.

Numerous stories and urban legends about how Apple got its name have been circulating across the internet. The theories range from everything to a tribute to Alan Turing, the British mathematician who broke the German enigma code during WW2 (Turing died after eating an apple laced with cyanide), to a biblical reference to Eve in the Garden of Eden.

However, reality is far less exciting. Steve Jobs suggested naming the company Apple simply because he liked the fruit, and Wozniak agreed. Another popular take is that the name was chosen in order to appear before Atari in the phone books, something which also factored into the decision. Jobs stated in 1980 that the name was chosen “Partly because I like the fruit, and partly because it is ahead of Atari in the Phone books”.

Jobs and Wozniak would go on to lead and build Apple during the following years. But what about Ronald Wayne? He was brought in to be “the only adult in the room” and act as a calm and guiding hand during the company's early days, helping Apple get started on the right course. However, his time at the company was extremely short-lived. Just 12 days after the company was founded, he departed from Apple and sold his stake back to Jobs and Wozniak for $800.

The trio were personally responsible for any accrued debt should the company fold, and unlike the young Jobs and Wozniak, he had material assets that would be seized should Apple fail. This combined with a bad experience of entrepreneurial endeavors gone wrong meant that he made a risk/reward calculation, and decided against continuing his involvement. While he would have been a very, very rich man had he stayed with Apple, he has said numerous times that he did not regret his decision to depart.

He made the best and most rational decision that he could at the time, claiming that he was not able to keep up with the energetic and at times chaotic nature of Jobs and Wozniak and that continuing to work for Apple would've been detrimental to his health. He even went so far as stating that “I would've been the richest man in the cemetery” had he stayed.

The Apple I and II

In the first few months, the young company faced significant challenges. Jobs and Wozniak needed capital to build the Apple I units, and while they had secured a line of credit, it wasn't enough. Jobs sold his Volkswagen Microbus, and Wozniak sold his HP-65 calculator to raise the necessary funds. They managed to produce the first batch of 50 Apple I computers, which they sold to Paul Terrell, owner of the Byte Shop, a local computer store.

Terrell agreed to buy the fully assembled units rather than the kits typically sold at the time, validating the co-founders' business idea. Instead of buying a kit that had to be assembled by the customer, the Apple I worked right out of the gate. It was a simple, single-board computer that came without a keyboard, monitor, or casing. Despite its rudimentary nature, the Apple I's ease of use and affordability appealed to hobbyists and enthusiasts, and all 50 units were sold.

Introduced in 1977, the Apple II was a significant advancement over the Apple I. It featured an integrated keyboard, a plastic case, and color graphics, which were revolutionary for personal computers at the time. The Apple II was designed with an open architecture that allowed users to add peripherals, making it versatile and expandable. It also included an early version of a spreadsheet program called VisiCalc, which became a killer app for the business market. The success of the Apple II was instrumental in establishing Apple as a key player in the burgeoning personal computer sector, and it remained in production until 1993.

It was also during these first years and over the course of the development and launch of the products that the roles of Jobs and Wozniak were cemented. While Jobs had technical expertise, his primary skillset was in design and marketing. Wozniak on the other hand was extremely talented on the technical side and brought the products to life. As an enthusiast himself, he aimed to build products that he wanted to use, but that weren't available on the market at the time.

Going Public by the End of 1980

On December 12, 1980, Apple went public, offering 4.6 million shares at $22 per share. It was the largest IPO since Ford went public in 1956, creating instant millionaires out of many Apple employees. This influx of capital allowed Apple to expand its operations significantly, increase research and development, and fund marketing campaigns.

Introducing the Macintosh

In 1984, Apple launched the Macintosh, which featured a graphical user interface (GUI) and a mouse, which made it much more user-friendly compared to the command-line interfaces of its contemporaries. The famous "1984" Super Bowl commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, introduced the Macintosh to the world with a dramatic flair, positioning the product as a revolutionary act against conformity. Despite the initial excitement and strong marketing, the Macintosh struggled with performance issues, limited software availability, and high prices, leading to disappointing sales.

However, it laid the groundwork for future innovations and despite its issues, it had its fair share of fans.

Leadership Changes and Struggles

In 1985 internal conflicts led to significant leadership changes within Apple. Steve Jobs, whose intense management style and high expectations often clashed with other executives, found himself at odds with the board of directors and then-CEO John Sculley, whom Jobs had recruited from PepsiCo.

Sculley had been instructed to try to contain and prevent him from launching expensive and risky forays into uncharted waters, something which infuriated Jobs. Instead of falling in line, he attempted to organize a boardroom coup, and crisis response was quickly organized by the board. Jobs was stripped of all administrative duties, and following this internal power struggle he was left with no choice but to resign from Apple.

This period marked the beginning of a challenging era for the company, as it struggled to find its footing without its visionary co-founder. The departure left a void in Apple's leadership that would take years to fill, and was a huge personal blow to Jobs who took the dismissal harshly.

Following Jobs' departure, Apple faced fierce competition from Microsoft and IBM. The lack of a coherent product strategy and poor management decisions led to a series of failed products, including the Apple III, Lisa, and Newton. The Apple III, launched in 1980, was plagued by technical problems and was discontinued in 1984. The Lisa, released in 1983, was advanced for its time, but its high price and performance issues prevented it from gaining traction. The Newton, introduced in 1993, was an early attempt at a personal digital assistant, but it suffered from poor handwriting recognition as well as other issues and was eventually discontinued.

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NeXT and Pixar

After being ousted from Apple, Steve Jobs founded NeXT Inc. in 1985, aiming to create powerful computers for the higher education and business markets. Jobs invested $7 million of his own money to start the company, driven by a vision to develop advanced hardware and software that could push the boundaries of what was then possible in computing.

NeXT's first product, the NeXT Computer, launched in 1988. It featured innovative technologies such as an optical disk drive, a high-resolution display, and the NeXTSTEP operating system. NeXTSTEP, which combined an intuitive user interface with object-oriented programming, had a significant influence on later software development.

Despite its technological innovations, the NeXT Computer was commercially unsuccessful due to its high price and limited market appeal. NeXT later pivoted to software, releasing NeXTSTEP for Intel processors, which eventually laid the groundwork for future developments in software design.

In addition to his work with NeXT, Jobs played a pivotal role in the evolution of Pixar. In 1986, Jobs acquired The Graphics Group, a computer graphics division of Lucasfilm, for $10 million and renamed it Pixar. Initially focused on developing advanced graphics hardware, Pixar shifted its focus to animation software and content creation under Jobs' leadership.

The company's breakthrough came with the release of "Toy Story" in 1995, the first feature-length film entirely created using computer animation. The film was both a critical and commercial success and established Pixar as a leader in the animation industry. Jobs' strategic vision and willingness to invest in cutting-edge technology were instrumental in the company's success.

Revolving Door of CEOs and a Looming Bankruptcy

Between 1985 and 1997, Apple had several CEOs, each struggling to return the company to its former glory. John Sculley, who initially succeeded Jobs, focused on marketing but failed to deliver successful new products. He was replaced by Michael Spindler in 1993, who led a series of cost-cutting measures but couldn't stop the company's decline.

Despite Spindlers best efforts, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy by the mid-1990s. The company's market share had dwindled to a mere fraction of what it once was, and its stock price had plummeted. Apple's product lineup was confusing and lacked focus, with many products failing to resonate with consumers. The lack of consistent leadership and vision further exacerbated Apple's problems, causing it to lose significant market share and relevance.

In 1996, Gil Amelio took over as CEO, implementing further restructuring and in a last-ditch effort to save the company, Apple acquired NeXT in 1996, bringing Steve Jobs back into the fold as an advisor. This acquisition not only provided Apple with a modern operating system but also marked the beginning of a dramatic turnaround for the company.

The Return of Steve Jobs and the Renaissance

Steve Jobs returned as an advisor, but it quickly became clear that Apple needed his leadership to steer it out of trouble. In 1997, Jobs was named interim CEO (later becoming permanent), and he wasted no time in making bold decisions to streamline Apple's product line, cutting numerous projects to focus on a few key products. Jobs implemented a clear strategy: to make high-quality, user-friendly products and to innovate continually. He also secured a crucial investment from Microsoft, which agreed to invest $150 million in Apple and develop Microsoft Office for Mac, providing a much-needed lifeline.

In 1998, Apple introduced the iMac, a colorful, all-in-one computer. The iMac was not only a commercial success but also a design statement, with its translucent case and vibrant colors standing out in a market dominated by beige boxes. The iMac's ease of use and attractive design reinvigorated the brand and helped restore Apple's reputation for innovation. The focus on simplicity, design, and user experience spearheaded by Jobs began to pay off as the iMac became a best-seller and marked the beginning of Apple's resurgence.

Jobs envisioned Apple as the center of the digital lifestyle, leading to the development of the "Digital Hub" strategy. This vision materialized with the launch of the iPod in 2001, a portable digital music player that quickly dominated the market. The iPod's success was bolstered by iTunes, a digital media player application launched in 2003, and the iTunes Store, which revolutionized the music industry by making digital music easy to purchase and manage. The iTunes ecosystem created a seamless experience for users, driving the sales of iPods while also establishing Apple as a major player in the music industry.

It was also during this period that Jobs delivered his now iconic 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University In his speech, Jobs shared profound life lessons through three personal stories, offering wisdom on how to approach life, work, and adversity. Jobs concluded with the now-famous quote, "Stay hungry, stay foolish," urging the graduates to remain curious and adventurous.

The iPhone Revolution, Jobs's Declining Health, and Continued Innovation

The single most important moment in the company's history came in 2007 with the reveal and subsequent release of the iPhone. The reveal took place during the MacWorld Expo and was conducted by Steve Jobs, dressed in his iconic black turtleneck. His keynote, which has gone down as one of the most well-executed and impactful product reveals ever, was rehearsed by Jobs for weeks and fundamentally changed the tech landscape forever.

Jobs started the presentation by saying that Apple was launching three “revolutionary products”. The first was to be a widescreen iPod with touch controls, the second was a mobile phone, and the third was a breakthrough communications device. While the crowd had erupted with applause for every single reveal, it was nothing compared to the cheers that happened when Jobs stated that all of these products were in one device and that from that day, Apple had reinvented the phone. In hindsight, this was a massive understatement.

Apple completely turned the mobile phone industry on its head with the release of the iPhone in the summer of 2007. Gone were the days of flip phones and clunky keyboards, replaced by a device that was intuitive and easy to use. The first iPhone was incredibly well-received and quickly established Apple as a dominant force in the sector. The App Store was launched a year later and was momentarily filled with third-party applications. After a month it was generating a daily revenue of over $1 million.

In 2009, Steve Jobs' health began to decline. He had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer all the way back in 2003, and the illness was starting to take a serious toll on him. This period was filled with medical leaves of absence.

Apple continued its innovation streak with the iPad in 2010, creating a new category of devices that bridged the gap between smartphones and laptops. The iPad's large touchscreen, ease of use, and vast library of apps made it a versatile tool for both consumers and professionals. Subsequent iterations of the iPad introduced more powerful processors, better displays, and new features, maintaining its position as the leading tablet in the market.

Steve Jobs Passing

Steve Jobs' health continued to decline, and in August 2011, he resigned as CEO, handing over the reins to Tim Cook, who had been managing Apple's day-to-day operations during Jobs' medical leave.

Steve Jobs lost his battle against cancer and passed away on October 5th, 2011. He was 56 years old.

Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
Steve Jobs in 2006, captured by Albert Watson

Jobs' passing was tragic not just on the human level, but also marked the end of an era for the company he so dearly loved. Under Jobs' leadership, Apple had transformed from a small garage upstart into one of the most valuable and influential tech giants in the world. He left behind a legacy and culture of innovation, design, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

Tim Cook's Leadership and Product Releases

Tim Cook, who had been with Apple since 1998, took over as CEO and focused on maintaining the company's innovative edge while expanding its product lines and services. He was in many ways the perfect candidate to continue what Jobs had started. Cook had acted as Jobs' right-hand man for many years, and the two had been very close for over a decade.

Under Cook's leadership, Apple expanded its services business significantly. Roughly one week after Jobs passed away, iCloud was launched. This became the first in a line of new and expanded services launched by the company. Some of the services introduced later include Apple Music and TV+ which diversified revenue streams further while directly competing against established players such as Spotify and Netflix. With features like fitness tracking, heart rate monitoring, and seamless integration with other Apple devices, it quickly became one of the best-selling smartwatches globally.

But services are not the only completely new products that have been introduced under the oversight of Tim Cook. Two other key product releases are the Apple Watch and the AirPods. The Apple Watch quickly became a massive hit following its release in 2015, becoming the best-selling global smartwatch globally during its first year on the market. Like other successful products, the watch has seen continuous updates over the years, introducing new features and more advanced models.

While the Apple Watch has been successful, the AirPods are playing in a league of their own. Since its release in 2016, the earbuds (and subsequent headphones) have become almost unfathomably popular. As a consequence, AirPods have become a massive cash cow for Apple, reportedly bringing in roughly $14 Billion in revenue in 2022.

Innovation and Design

Apple's relentless focus on innovation and design has set it apart from competitors. From the Macintosh to the iPhone, Apple products are known for their aesthetic appeal, intuitive interfaces, and seamless integration of hardware and software. Apple's design philosophy emphasizes simplicity, elegance, and user experience, making its products not only functional but also visually appealing. Its design language is coherent and consistent, and even though many products are vastly different from each other, all you need is one quick glance in order to know what you're looking at.

The Apple Unboxing Experience

The Apple unboxing experience is known for its careful attention to detail and is something on which the company places a great deal of focus and effort. When customers receive an Apple product, the packaging immediately signals a premium experience. The box is typically sleek and minimalistic, featuring high-quality materials and a clean design. The exterior usually has a crisp image of the product and the Apple logo.

Apple's approach to the unboxing process is focused on creating a memorable first interaction. The packaging is designed to be simple and elegant, making it easy to open and handle. Often, there is a pull tab or a snug-fitting lid that opens smoothly, designed to reveal what's inside at a deliberate pace.

Typically, the product is the first item visible, placed prominently to be the focal point of the experience. Every element of the packaging is thoughtfully arranged, from the texture of the materials to the placement of accessories, which are organized in a way that is easily accessible and visually appealing. This unboxing experience is designed to make a strong first impression, and Apple ensures that the process is consistent across its product range.

Apple Park

Apple Park is the company's corporate headquarters, located in Cupertino, California, and opened to employees in 2017. Designed by the renowned architect Norman Foster, Apple Park is a circular, 175-acre campus often referred to as "the spaceship" due to its distinctive ring shape.

Foster purposefully designed the campus to be inviting and enjoyable to walk around in, as Steve Jobs loved walking. In his biography, he says that “taking a long walk is my preferred way to have a serious conversation, and that it was the best way to ensure that meetings weren't boring. With this in mind, the courtyard is more reminiscent of a public park than of an office space, encouraging employees to stroll around and take meetings outside.

The main structure's facade is made almost entirely of curved glass, allowing natural light to flood the interior spaces. This design choice aligns with Apple's minimalistic approach, focusing on clean lines and an uncluttered aesthetic. The design and operation of the complex are deeply intertwined with the company's philosophy and serve as both an office space and a physical manifestation of Apple and its core guiding principles.

The Apple Ecosystem and Brand Loyalty

Apple's ecosystem of devices and services creates a unique user experience. Products like the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and AirPods work seamlessly together, while services like iCloud, Apple Music, and Apple Pay enhance the overall experience. This tight integration ensures that users can easily transition between devices and access their data, media, and applications from anywhere.

The ecosystem's cohesiveness encourages customer loyalty, as users who invest in one Apple product are more likely to purchase additional products and services, creating a virtuous cycle of engagement and satisfaction. This is part of the reason why Apple enjoys an unparalleled level of brand loyalty. The company's products and services mesh seamlessly with one another and make for a very attractive user experience overall. Combine this with the fact that many enthusiasts have a deep admiration for the company's philosophy and design ethos, and you get a brand that, in many cases, is loved by its customers.

Closing Words

At the precise time of the writing, Apple’s market capitalization is close to $3 trillion, and hundreds of millions of Apple products are being used in all corners of the world. The impact that the company has had on the world as a whole is impossible to overstate, and Apple is showing no signs of slowing down. The company continues to push the limits of what is possible in design and technology, continually seeking to stay true to the core tenant that made the company into what it is today — innovation. And what better way to conclude this article than with the words of the late, great Steve Jobs: Stay hungry, stay foolish.

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