The obvious parallel for an Apple in the form of a diversified computer/entertainment/electronics company is Sony. The massively successful Walkman cassette recorder, launched in 1979, was in many ways the iPod of its time, and its very name is now synonymous with this sort of small, portable cassette recorder. The Sony PlayStation has been among the most important of the major gaming platforms for over 10 years, despite stiff competition from the likes of Nintendo and, more recently, Microsoft.
But Sony hasn’t always been able to capitalize on its successes. Because each division within the company has its own agenda, products that “cross the lines” between them sometimes end up being compromised. The classic example here was a digital Walkman released in 2003 to counter the success of the iPod. To prevent music piracy, Sony Music nixed MP3 compatibility, instead forcing the Sony engineers in the Walkman division to turn out a product tied to a proprietary format that hardly anyone else was using. Needless to say, the machine tanked, and eventually Sony added MP3 support to its digital music players.
Clearly, the difference here is that Apple is all about the device, not the content, where Sony has to balance the needs of its music publishing division against those of its manufacturing divisions. But Sony also loses out in terms of vision. Apple has Steve Jobs, Sony doesn’t.
Whatever else is said about Steven Jobs, much of which isn’t altogether flattering, even his harshest critics accept that the guy is a genius when it comes to industrial design and marketing.
Jobs has pulled Apple back from virtual collapse and turned it into a major league, blue-chip success. In 1997, Michael Dell famously suggested that the best thing Jobs could do would be to shut down Apple and give the money back to its shareholders. Today, Apple’s market capitalization is $106.4 billion versus $61.7 billion for Dell and Apple enjoys quarterly year-on-year revenue growth of over 20 percent, compared with less than 3 percent for Dell.