That's what we in the biz call a "one-hit wonder"
Comparing Apple to the no-longer-independent Iomega is like comparing The Beatles to A Flock of Seagulls, or Men Without Hats. Sure, both bands had chart-toppers like "I Ran (So Far Away)" and "Safety Dance," but do you really care about anything else either of them did? Not likely.
The Beatles by contrast, have sold more than 500 million records and are the best-selling band of all time. Yeah, I know, John Lennon actually did do that "Two Virgins" audio experiment with Yoko Ono; it wasn't a nightmare. And, yes, the Magical Mystery Tour movie wasn't exactly a smash. But doesn't that pale against the rest of the band's pure platinum body of work? Of course it does.
Behind the music: Iomega
Which brings us back to Iomega, the classic one-hit wonder of the business world. Rick says it perfectly:
Iomega's stylish cobalt blue Zips were elegant and functional. With superior storage capacity to floppy diskettes, it became an essential PC accessory. Tape storage rival SyQuest tried to make its mark in the niche, but it was too late. Iomega was gobbling up market share and all of the style points. We all know how it ended. Zip ultimately handed the baton to CD-Rs, flash memory cards, and USB drives.
Exactly. Iomega had other products -- still does -- but none of them ever took off the way the Zip Drive did.
Now, shall we run through Apple's string of chart-toppers? Allow me:
- The Apple II, which helped to define the personal computer.
- The Macintosh, which ... Well, you don't need me to say anything more here, right?
- The Apple LaserWriter, which, when combined with Aldus PageMaker software, birthed the desktop publishing industry.
- The iPod, which, when combined with iTunes, transformed Sony's once-iconic Walkman into a distant memory.
- Mac OS X, which was born out of elements of the NeXT operating system built by the company CEO Steve Jobs left Apple to found in 1985.
- The iPhone, which was the world's second-best-selling smartphone during the third quarter. (Brrrrrrrring! Profits calling!)
Of course, Apple has had its blunders too. Take the Mac Cube. A cult hit in later years, it proved to be a weak seller at launch and was canceled after just a year on the market. The Pippin gaming system had already lost out to platforms from Nintendo and Sony (NYSE: SNE ) by the time of its U.S. launch in 1996. And while it's future is debatable, there's no doubting that Apple TV has done little, if anything, to diminish enthusiasm for TiVo and Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) .
The barbarians named Gates and Ballmer
What about Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , you say? Yes, the original Mac OS never took off the way it was supposed to during the '90s. However, Microsoft's OS victory likely had more to do with partnerships than technical superiority.
Certainly Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and team did a brilliant job of wooing developers to Windows. And partnering with Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) made it easy to propagate its "Wintel" platform via IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) , Compaq, and other PC makers. Apple might have done better had it chosen to open the Mac OS to outsiders sooner.
Or not. Today, Windows is decades old and, as a consequence of its popularity, maintains aged code so that old software -- some old software, anyway -- can run on the newest versions of the OS. Apple doesn't have that problem and thus has been able to rebuild the Mac OS time and again, emphasizing innovation over aging bits. Market share gains have followed. (Though, to be fair, Apple's Rosetta Stone utility has played a part by assisting older Mac software in operating on today's binary code systems.)
Mr. Epstein, meet Mr. Jobs
Aside from the dark years when Jobs was away, Apple has been a consistent chart-topper. The next Iomega? Only if you think of Jobs as David Bailey or David Norton, Iomega's successful but mostly anonymous co-founders. His record, however, is much more like legendary Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
You're welcome to bet that he doesn't have another hit in him. Just don't ask me to.