Remember when computers used to be cool? Deep inside One Infinite Loop, the Silicon Valley address of Apple Computer's Industrial Design Lab, they still are. Never mind that the Valley is a grim place these days and that the gold rush has given way to the deep funk. Forget that the Internet bubble has burst, and that Ma and Pa investors across America are wearing a what-were-we-thinking? grimace of fiscal remorse. Right here, right now, sitting on a butcher-block table, bathed in the sunlight that pours in through spyproof frosted-glass windows, is--repeat after Steve Jobs now--the quintessence of computational coolness, the most fabulous desktop machine that you or anyone anywhere has ever seen.
O.K., maybe that's overstating it somewhat. Maybe that's overstating it a lot. But it's hard to remain impassive when you're sitting within the reality-distortion field that surrounds Apple's evangelical CEO when he's obsessing about the dazzling, never-seen-anything-like-it, ultra-top secret computer perched before him. This is the new iMac, the long-awaited successor to the best-selling, candy-colored, all-in-one computer that revived Apple's consumer sales and signaled that the boss and co-founder was back and badder than ever. This new iMac, Jobs says, "is the best thing we've ever done."
Of course, this is Steve Jobs talking, and he says that about every new product when it's ready to launch. With him, it's always a revolution. But even when he's wrong, you can be pretty sure that whatever he and Apple are doing will quickly be copied by the rest of the PC world. So what if you don't have a Mac? Pay attention: what Jobs does is often the shape of things to come.
Besides, this time he really means it. This time we need a revolution. This time the computer industry is in free fall and, all around, the makers of desktops and laptops are frantically cutting one another's throats even as they cut costs, vying to be the cheapest box on the block.
Not Apple, though.
Jobs is betting the company that what consumers most want from technology is control of their digital lives. And what better way to do that than with the smartest-looking, easiest-to-use, best-engineered computer there is? The time is right, he says. We are wallowing in digital cameras and camcorders and MP3 players that get harder to use, not easier. The thing that will connect us to our gadgets needs to be a digital hub, a computer designed to simplify our lives. This, Jobs says, is what Apple was meant to do--and it's what no one else in the PC world is doing.
So damn the recession! Build it, and they will come. "Victory in our industry is spelled survival," says Jobs. "The way we're going to survive is to innovate our way out of this."
Now before you leap to your feet and shout amen, consider this: Apple, which has been innovating and rebounding since Jobs' return in 1997, has nevertheless been struggling to retain the small market share it still enjoys. This time Jobs and the company he built and nurtured and adores really, truly need a hit.