I do think it’s interesting and of course it’s newsworthy that Apple has just made more profit than any other public company ever. Weirdly, though, none of the many, many news reports I saw about this mentioned that it’s inspiring for writers.
Now, making lots of money could be inspiring for anyone, but I’m not actually thinking of the cash here. I’m talking inspiration and I’m thinking heartwarming. Seriously.
Apple just made $18bn, that’s £11.8bn and that bn is billion. Billion. I’m suddenly wondering if that’s a US billion or a UK one, but either way, it’s a lot. Doubtlessly, it is very easy to find the idea of lots of money inspiring if only because the idea of lots of not having to worry about bills is pretty great. Yet if you are driven by money, if you are drawn by money, you haven’t gone in to writing.
Here’s the thing. What none of the news reports really mentioned was that Apple nearly died.
There was a point when this company was within 90 days of going bankrupt.
You and I are used to working under pressure but imagine being ninety days from bankruptcy while having thousands of staff on salary. As writers, our business is comparatively easy as we usually don’t have staff and we very rarely have any stock in warehouses. So imagine the staff and imagine having warehouses full of computers that aren’t selling.
This is where Apple was around the time that it brought back its co-founder Steve Jobs. So now imagine coming back to the company you made into a success and was ousted from in a boardroom fight by a fella you’d lobbied to bring in to the firm. No wonder there’s going to be a film about this guy.
Run the list with me. Immense pressure. Close to death. And deeply, personally invested in this firm. The degree and the volume and the sheer loudness of each of those must be more than any of us will ever face but we all face all of them. We all also have one specific problem that Apple did: our media and publishing seem to be these fast-paced worlds yet we know it takes centuries to make anything happen. Computers are this whizzy-fast technology revolution but pretend you’re designing fridges instead. It takes a lot of time, an immense amount of money, and with the technology available to you the very best you’re going to do is make a fridge that is slightly better than someone else’s. Then you have to get thousands of them made on spec and do everything you can to get those fridges in front of buyers.
Preferably in ninety days.
There was a lot that Apple could’ve done and there was a fairly infinite supply of advice from other companies and the technology press. They boiled down to two things. Sell the company or allow other firms to make Apple computers too.
What Apple did instead was hard and it was what writers need to do too. They simplified and they gambled on making something new that they thought was right.
The simplification was radical at the time. I don’t know how many different computers Apple had then but it was a lot. If you’ve ever asked a salesman or woman exactly what the difference between these six PCs are and they’ve recited something to do with gigahertz, that’s where Apple was then. A mess.
They dropped everything and instead planned to make just four things. A desktop and a laptop for consumers and the same again for professionals.
And for the consumer desktop computer, they designed the iMac.
I didn’t like it. The semi-translucent, brightly coloured, bulbous computer was garish but I admit that at least it wasn’t another grey box. Microsoft’s Bill Gates mocked it, saying that Apple was now the market leader in colours but he had a feeling PCs might just be able to catch up.
I don’t believe that Gates really thought that, I don’t imagine the man really missed what Apple had actually done. Yet he didn’t or couldn’t do anything then to compete with it. For what Apple had done with this (to my mind) ugly machine was to make it appealing. Computers weren’t appealing before: their audience already knew they wanted computers. Now Apple was reaching people who needed to be convinced to buy computers – and it convinced them. A lot.
PC stands for Personal Computer and this was suddenly personal. Apple put a handle on the machine not so you could lift it but so that you just instinctively understood that you could touch it. This was yours. And it was Apple’s: it wasn’t a commodity slapped together at a budget price, it was crafted and it was personal to them as well as to you.
When we’ve had umpteen rejections as writers, that’s what we need to do. Cut down on the number of projects we’re trying. Focus. And then write something new, something very personal, something if not with colour necessarily – this romcom needs more purple! – then definitely with vibrancy.
One more thing. That iMac was such a giant success that, yes, of course all other computer companies followed suit – or thought they did. They slapped a blue plastic bit on the front and waited for the money to roll in. They’re still waiting.
Apple isn’t. That ugly original iMac begat many variations and a couple of generations but then Apple chose to end it. They do this a lot. Make a hit and then kill it. Replace it with a better one. The brightly-coloured iMac became the plain white one and then iterated through I don’t know how many variations until it’s reached the beautiful one on my desk. I don’t use the word casually: this screen and this iMac are a pleasure to look at and since I might be looking at it 16 hours a day, it matters.
So there’s another thought. Write something you can bear looking at for 16 hours a day.
I like Apple products, I very much like their approach to design, but $18bn is so huge that I don’t think I can really imagine how much it is. Consequently I’m not that interested. Yet watching all those news reports, I really did find it heartening. You can be at death’s door and pressing the bell and you can turn that around completely by ignoring your critics and carrying on doing what you think is right.