THE BLOG

Applesauce

07/01/2009 08:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Steve Jobs returned from exile on September 16, 1997. Since then, Apple Inc.'s stock price has risen nearly 2,500 percent. Revenues have jumped from $7.1 billion to $32.5 billion. In 1997, Apple lost $1 billion. In 2008, the company netted profits of nearly $5 billion. Today, Apple is the most renowned consumer products company in the world. Steve Jobs is widely viewed as the most brilliant and visionary businessman of his generation.

What secret to this applesauce?

Not any single product or marketing decision. Not the sleek MacBook, the sexy iPhone, or the iconic advertisements. The secret sauce is Jobs's tart disdain for his customers.

Apple succeeds because it violates every large-company, mass-consumer convention. Other companies reach out to their customers and design their products to measured and varied consumer needs. Apple stands apart from its customers, shaping its market, not shaped by it. Consumers worship Apple because the company is aloof and arrogant. Apple's products are totemic because they emerge fully formed - designed from a singular, secretive vision.

Jobs scorns focus groups. As he told Business Week, "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Indeed.

Let's consider Mac and PC. The PC is inexpensive and suffers from efforts to be all things to all people, and hence very little to any one person. The PC's architecture is transparent, yet graceless. It invites customization, but thereby shears down the wall between its designers and its consumers, leaving all befuddled.

The Mac is different. By definition. The Mac is expensive because it means to be exclusive. It possesses a unitary, proprietary blend of hardware and software, designed to work hand in glove. Its guts are elusive and mysterious, plug and play but hidden away. Apple cleanly separates its customers from its products, and defines the relationship between the two in terms of that separation. It is that simple. The Mac and the iPod are what they are. There is no choice. You either buy them, and embrace them, and worship them. Or you don't.