Back in the early 1980s, AAPL made a better personal computer than IBM, at a time when the PC was beginning to displace the minicomputer in corporations and when individuals were starting to become a viable market for computing power.
Steve Jobs made two strategic errors, however, that ended up preventing AAPL from exploiting its advantage, which ultimately marginalized his company and put it on the verge of bankruptcy.
–AAPL priced its PC at 2x -3x the level of its MS-DOS alternatives, providing an overwhelming economic incentive to put up with the clunkiness of an IMB or a Compaq.
–Jobs marketed solely to company IT departments, which at that time had no power to make purchasing decisions. He completely ignored the CEOs and COOs who did. This may have enhanced his counterculture image, but it effectively closed the door to any corporate sales.
Jobs 2.0, Groundhog Day–except better so far
Arguably, Jobs 2.0 repeated the same game plan as 1.0: make high-end, high-priced consumer devices and ignore the corporate world.
In the post-Jobs era, and after a whole lot of waffling, AAPL management has decided to stick with Page One of the Steve playbook and is continuing to define itself as a maker of high-end consumer devices. On the other hand, it lived (by the skin of its teeth) through Jobs 1.0 and knows how that story ended.
That’s why I think AAPL’s just-announced decision to partner with IBM to sell mobile products to corporations is potentially very significant. It suggests AAPL is no longer willing to be straitjacketed by the Jobs mystique. This is a good thing, because growth companies only continue to prosper if they periodically reinvent themselves.
Also, given the continuing ineptitude of Ballmer-led Microsoft, the corporate market is much more wide open to AAPL smartphones and tablets than AAPL had any right to expect.
I’m not rushing out to buy AAPL on the strength of a single new venture. But it’s a start. It suggests that Tim Cook is doing more than rearranging the deck chairs. It argues that we should also be on the alert for further signals of favorable change in the company’s strategy.