Learning From the Pros: How Apple Came Back, and How You Can Too

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Ever since its foundation in the 1970s, Apple Computers has withstood the test of time. In doing so it has constantly changed its product line to fit the needs of current and past customers.

This constant reinvention has served Apple well through the exit and comeback of founder Steve Jobs, the introduction of successful products like the IPhone, the failure of key products, and the death of Jobs and the uncertain future the company faces in his absence.

Still, companies learn lessons from the changes. Good companies withstand the blows and come back stronger. The ones that do not often end up reading Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code – or even worse, Chapter 7, which often spells the end of a company.

Many companies would do well to learn from Apple’s mistakes. A high-profile one the company just made was its attempt to copy Google Maps and Mapquest with a product called Apple Maps. It seems harmless. After all, it was an attempt by the company to get in on the lucrative GPS market. Instead, when asked where Berlin was it pointed to Antartica instead of Germany. When asked about directions to a specific location, the app often came back with directions that sent drivers careening into the nearest building or taking an unplanned splash in a river.

Users of the new IPhone howled heavily, saying Apple had committed a serious mistake. Apple understood and immediately fixed it with a download that replaced Apple Maps with Google’s own product. Yes, it sent publicity to a competitor, but in the long run Apple decided a bit of negative news would be outweighed by the quick fix.

One of Apple’s biggest complaints it gets from customers is the high price of its products. The “Lisa” computer came out in 1983 just as the popularity of home PC’s was taking off. Its price tag was nearly $10,000, a very steep price even by that era’s standards. The Macintosh Portable was an attempt to bring laptops to Apple in 1989 before laptops were even in style. Its $6,500 price tag was cost-prohibitive. The “Newton”, introduced in 1993, was an attempt to tap the growing PDA market before Palm Pilots and Blackberry phones came into vogue. Still, a big size and $1,000 tag proved bulky and turned off many buyers.

Had these products come out today, Apple would have needed a cleaning of its online reputation when it came to business. Companies like these offer online management services to business that could use it, and Apple could have used it after the Apple Maps fiasco.

Still, for every Lisa, Newton and MacPortable, there is a Macintosh, IPad and ITunes product out there. Apple kept plugging away. Every bomb of a product was met with two or three successful creations. Don’t put everything on one product. If a product bombs badly, it can sink a company’s reputation faster than a ship hit by a torpedo.

Companies need to address bad things quickly. The introduction of the Mac helped settle down anxious Apple investors who were burned by Lisa. The Newton of 1993 gave way to the IPad over a decade later. Products are priced at much better points, as they take advantage of new technology.

Apple isn’t rotten in its core yet. The fruit is still tasty, but like most businesses it has to prevent getting spoiled in the long run.