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ATPM 3.09
September 1997




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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Hoop Dreams

It was another relaxing Saturday afternoon in Florida. The sun was shining brightly. The Gulf of Mexico's warm waters were beckoning. The newspaper advertised a steel drum band playing at my favorite beachfront bar during their happy hour. Just another day in the paradise that is Florida.

Where was I?

In an gym. Pacing nervously. Assigning numbers to players. Oh, boy. What did I get myself hooked into now?

These past few months have been, well, quite interesting for me. You see, I volunteered to coach a youth basketball team for the city's rec center. My team, the Largo Heat, consists of seven kids, ages 12 through 15. With great fanfare that fateful Saturday afternoon, our team took their positions on court for or first game warmups.

It started one day last April. For reasons unknown to me, I called the local recreation department and asked whether they had a basketball program and if they needed coaches. The person who answered the phone was the director of the basketball program. I learned first-hand "rule number one" about volunteering: If you speak directly with the director of the organization on the phone, it's exponentially more difficult to back out later should you change your mind.

"Yes, Mr. Iovino. We sure do need coaches! Do you want to coach?" asked the director in an entirely too energetic voice.

"Sure," I said, beginning to question my decision to call.

"No problemo! You're in! See ya at the coaches' meeting in August!"

"But..." The director had already hung up. I thought about backing out, but the off season passed more quickly than I expected, try outs and a draft were held, and suddenly... there I was at our team's first game.

The computer world has changed drastically following Steve Jobs' bombshell announcement at the Macworld Expo. Old ideas, such as "us versus them," had to be scrapped for a new approach. Words like "teamwork" began to creep into the vocabulary of those Mac enthusiasts who were once die hard Microsoft haters as the news of this grand partnership settled in.

Attitudes have started to change in Cupertino as well. Symbols of Apple's identity, such as the location of the company's headquarters, are being reevaluated. Steve Jobs is working hard to recapture the magic of the old 1984 Apple. Energetic. Forward thinking. Exciting. Cushy offices at One Infinite Loop are going the way of the dinosaur or the Dodo bird.

With all the recent upheaval, Apple now has a new role to play. The way I see it, Apple Computers has become less of a player in the computing industry and more of a coach. I don't think this means that Apple is not committed to a return to profitability. Far from it. With the bounce in Apple's stock price, it will appear more solvent in the eyes of investors and customers alike.

The Microsoft partnership has breathed new life into a company which had become identified with huge quarterly losses and sagging market share. But Apple should now act like a coach, coordinating the comeback effort, rather than a player, who concentrates on one aspect of the game. Like a coach, Apple needs to make some important decisions in order to chalk up more wins than losses.

I have seven players on my team. Each has his own set of skills, attitude towards playing, and level of experience which makes them unique.

Some kids on the team will easily go on to play varsity high school basketball and have a shot of playing at the college level. Granted, they may not play at schools like Arizona, Kentucky, or North Carolina, but they will gain a birth on a college team.

Other kids bring a solid knowledge of the game and excel at one particular aspect of play. For one, it's defense, for another, rebounding and for a third, passing. These players make up the core of the team, upon whom we rely heavily when the chips are down.

Finally, there are the kids who show up with underdeveloped basketball skills, but an infectious enthusiasm for play. They will play any position required of them, take on any task, and give 100% effort which makes up for any shortcomings in their game.

As a coach, it's my job to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each player and determine the best way to utilize their skills. Some players can handle the ball well, so they are the guards. Others who rebound well end up as forwards. Center, well, let's just say the tallest kid is a good choice.

Apple Computer, under its new management scheme and philosophy, needs to identify the strengths and weaknesses of its operations sectors. Jobs and whoever the new CEO will be need to sit down and carefully review each aspect of Apples's involvement in the computing industry.

For example, a sticking point with Apple has always been its hardware. For years, Apple was sole manufacturer of Mac OS compatible equipment. Apple played the equivalent of a slow, ball control game with their technology, while other hardware manufacturers ran circles around them. True, this cautious approach did lead to unparalleled hardware compatibility (just try to configure new hardware onto a Windows box), but it also stifled a drive to build better, faster, AND cheaper equipment. I can remember the fanfare when Apple was releasing its 14.4 modem, although by then many other companies had already moved to 28.8 as their standard.

As other hardware clone manufacturers have come off the bench to build Mac OS boxes and peripherals, Apple has given them a lukewarm reception at best. Companies such as Power Computing and Motorola have become better equipped and more savvy in the design of Mac-compatible boxes, even surpassing Apple in speed and "Bang for your buck." Rather than welcome these developments, Apple has fiddled with the idea of clamping further restrictions on clone manufacturers. Only recently has there been a mention of a "thaw" in this "cold war."

Of course, my most important task as coach is to pay attention to the game's ebb and flow and to manage the players accordingly. There are certain combinations of players who can accomplish particular tasks well. For instance, when I need good outside shooters to take three point shots, I put a one group of five on the court. If I need good rebounding, the combination of players changes drastically. After a few weeks practice, I have gotten a better feel of which players work well together and which have trouble.

Our league also has a strict "Must Play" policy, and I have to be very careful to abide by those rules. Each player must play his mandated time or there are dire consequences—I can get booted from the league! So, I have to decide between playing a structured game, with set offensive plays and a disciplined zone defense, or a less structured game where players "float" and I have to trust their judgment. Hey, nobody ever said that it was easy to coach!

Apple needs to make some serious game decisions as well. Just as the decision to substitute for a player with a hot hand but poor rebounding skills is tough, Apple has to make its own gut check and make the right call.

In my humble opinion, Apple needs to get out of the hardware business. Apple has established the level to which all hardware must comply, but now must relinquish its stranglehold on hardware manufacturing and go totally software. Period.

Apple should focus on what has made Macintosh great—the OS. That's right. This is a call for Apple to become a software company, just like Microsoft. They should funnel all the R&D dollars and staff firepower into beefing up the OS and leave the nuts and bolts to upstarts like APS and big boys like Motorola.

Rhapsody, delivered on time and with all of its promised bells and whistles will be far more impressive than squeezing another 25 Mhz clock speed on a chip or 10 MHz on a bus. Besides, without a modern, efficient OS, computer boxes are nothing more than expensive paperweights. The OS functions as a point guard on the "Personal Computing" team, calling plays and serving as strategic commander. Games are won and lost on how well the point guard plays, so Apple needs to focus on its point guard, the OS, make it the best it can be, and get back into the game while there is still time to make a difference.

My team had some tough games at first. We lost each of our first two games in the last seconds. Both of these one point defeats were rough for the team to handle. But by reexamining our strategy, shifting a few players around, and redoubling our efforts, our third game was a major victory.

We now look forward to a season of playing together like a well-oiled machine, just as all Mac users look forward to a future with a healthy, smart, and aggressive Apple Computer.

Blue Apple"Apple Cider" is © 1997 by Tom Iovino, <>.

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