The latest numbers show that in 2013, Apple rose to #2 in online retail, second only to Amazon.
Not all that amazing, given that iTunes and App Store sales are now included in Apple’s figures.
But, given the humble beginnings of the Apple Store, it does give me that “how far we’ve come” feeling.
It all started with a baby step back in the “Think different” years, even before the first iMac appeared.
In those days, Apple made its big announcements with multipage inserts in magazines like Time and Newsweek. Apple creating an online store was indeed big news — though not quite big enough to merit its own insert.
The piece you see here was titled “Think different. Really different.” Within its pages, Apple announced three bits of news:
1. A faster processor. (Get it? a chip!)
2. Build-to-order Macs.
3. This new thing called the Apple Store. (Technically, #2 and #3 are one and the same, but hey, three is always better than two.)
Viewing advice: close your eyes and imagine you’re in 1998. The design of this thing will look much better now.
Revisiting this insert, two things struck me.
First, what awful packaging Apple once had. Those Mac boxes had all the sex appeal of colorless cardboard. Oh, right — they were colorless cardboard.
The presentation of Apple products became beautiful only when Steve Jobs’ passion for the complete user experience made it down to the packaging dept.
Second, I was fascinated by a bit of information contained in the Apple Store spread: “We built the Apple Store with the same technology we used to build Dell’s online store in 1996 — only we made a more advanced version to make your shopping more rewarding.”
Really? My 2014 brain finds it incredibly hard to believe that Apple helped build Dell’s online store. I suppose this refers to some kind of re-building, as Dell had been selling online for at least a decade at this time.
I can’t find any evidence to validate this.
My instinct would be to slam the writer for gross exaggeration or outright lying — were it not for the fact that the writer was me. And of course I’m Mr. Trustworthy.
I assure you that the broad strokes of what I wrote came directly from Steve Jobs. If I found a nugget elsewhere, it would have ultimately been approved by Steve, as he was aware of every word and image in national advertising.
So, for now, I will simply file this away as a forgotten-yet-astounding fact. Maybe someone out there can clarify.
One last memory on the making of this piece, and then I’ll go away.
As I gathered info from those building the online Apple Store, I was told that Macs were indeed now customizable — with one exception. That would be the memory. I thought this was odd, given that memory would be the one thing buyers would be most eager to customize.
After unearthing this tidbit, I found myself in a meeting where Steve casually mentioned how great it was that customers would now be able to build their own Macs online.
I then shared what I was told about the memory issue.
Steve seemed more surprised than I was — and very concerned. He instantly summoned the responsible party to the Apple boardroom where we were meeting.
Ten minutes later, a woman showed up. She was barely inside the door when Steve confronted her: “We can configure Mac memory in the Apple Store, right?” In a matter-of-fact way, she said “No, Steve, we’ll be able to do that soon, but we can’t do it at launch.” She proceeded to give him a few technical reasons why.
Steve rejected her rationale and said that this was simply unacceptable. Right there in front of a roomful of people, he directed her to fix this immediately and sent her on her way.
Guess what? Steve got his way. Not long after this meeting, I got the go-ahead to include the part about customizing new Macs — no asterisk required.
By today’s standards, that insert was pretty tame. The first online Apple Store was but a shadow of what it was to become. But it’s safe to say that, even before there was an iMac, the Apple revival was well under way.
If you’re interested, read the Mashable article about the evolution of the online Apple Store.