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Apple’s iDecade – BusinessWeek

The iPod family with, from the left to the rig...
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Apple’s iDecade – BusinessWeek.

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Ten years ago this week, Apple seemed destined for irrelevance. Sales had dropped to $6 billion in 1999 from a peak of $11 billion in 1995. Apple’s share of the U.S. PC market plummeted to less than 4% in 1999 from 9.6% in 1991. And the company’s stock lost more than half its value in a single day at the end of September 2000 when the company issued a dour profit warning for its fiscal fourth quarter.

But the impact of that acclaimed computer would pale in comparison with the influence of Apple’s next big project. In early 2001, Apple created iTunes, which it described as “jukebox software” for organizing and playing digital music. Ten months later, Apple produced the first iPod.

If it sounds overdramatic to say the iPod changed the world, consider this: In 1949, American homes had 2 million TV sets. By 1959 that number was 42 million. At the end of 2001, only 128,000 people had iPods. At the end of 2009, Apple has sold somewhere near a quarter-billion iPods. That sounds like a cultural shift to me. I challenge you to find a single object that more fully represents the zeitgeist of the early 21st century.

By 2003, iTunes had morphed into a music store and two years later it started carrying video, too. By 2008, Apple was the world’s biggest retailer of music, supplanting retail giant Wal-Mart (WMT). Consumers around the world have purchased 8 billion tracks from iTunes.

Half a decade after turning the music industry on its ear with the iPod, Apple would send shockwaves across telecommunications with the iPhone. Conceived initially as a phone that would play music and video from iTunes, the iPhone’s primary appeal quickly became the 100,000 head-slappingly useful software applications that run on it.

The iPhone, introduced in 2007, certainly plays music, but owners are just as likely to use it to check the weather, book dinner reservations, read a newspaper, get directions, or play a quick game of Tap Tap Revenge on the subway. Users of the iPhone, along with those who own the sibling device known as the iPod touch, have collectively downloaded 2.5 billion applications.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Mac line of computers has thrived. In its 25th year, the Mac accounts for 9% to 10% of the U.S. PC market, a level not seen in 20 years. Mac sales tripled from 3.5 million in 1999 to 10.4 million in 2009.

The combined influence of the iPod, the iPhone, and iTunes has left practically no form of media untouched. Established interests in radio, television, motion pictures, print media, and even handheld video games have all felt Apple’s presence with no small amount of dread because it meant changes were coming, like it or not.

Apple’s profound business transformation over the last decade, its overarching influence on the worlds of media and technology, coupled with its leadership position in the burgeoning world of mobile technology, lead me to one conclusion: The 10-year period now ended should henceforth be known as the iDecade. And I don’t think it’s anywhere near over.

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  1. January 15, 2010 at 9:02 am

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