Fifteen years ago, Apple (AAPL) was left for dead.
Vanquished by Microsoft (MSFT) in the operating system wars, and badly mismanaged in the wake of the firing of founder Steve Jobs, the company was running on fumes.
Then Steve Jobs came back.
And, over the next decade, Jobs led what is probably the most remarkable turnaround in corporate history. Thanks to a host of amazing products that Jobs and his team invented, Apple has become the most valuable and profitable company in the world.
Importantly, though, Apple's current wealth and power makes the company much less sympathetic than it was in the early years of its turnaround.
In those years, the only people who cared about Apple, were its devoted faithful--folks who believed in "Think Different," hated the Microsoft empire, and believed that, with Steve Jobs back at the helm, Apple could pull off a miracle. As Apple scratched and clawed its way back from the brink, they cheered its every move. And that support, combined with Apple's release of one beautifully designed product after another, gradually won over hundreds of millions of gadget consumers and helped destroy the Microsoft monopoly.
But now Apple is unfathomably rich and powerful. And the feisty competitiveness with which the company attacks critics and competitors is reminding people of Microsoft's tactics back in the Windows-monopoly days of the late 1990s.
In the latest release of its mobile operating system and the iPhone 5, for example, Apple has replaced Google Maps with its own mapping solution. No one knows for certain why it did this, but the consensus is that the company wanted to control a potentially lucrative app. And reviewers have almost universally concluded that Apple's mapping solution is worse than Google's, and, therefore, that--at least for now--Apple has used its tremendous power to put its own interests ahead of its customers'.
Apple needs to be aware of this dynamic--and careful of it. Because sentiment around the company could turn quickly. And if Apple loses the fanatical support of hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide, it will lose one of its most valuable assets.
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