Apple PowerBook Case Write-up
After the failed release of Apple’s first miniaturized computer, the Portable, the company was faced with the likelihood of losing significant ground in the mobile computing market if it didn’t bring a product to market at record speed. Apple had anticipated the Portable would be competitive enough to maintain market share until its longer term “Companion” project was complete. However, thirty-six months remained until Companion would be ready. Weak sales coupled with Compaq introducing the far superior LTE notebook created intense pressure to bring a product to market in the next 18 months that could serve as a placeholder until the Companion arrived. Bringing a product to market this quickly was no easy task. The new portable needed to be small and compact, yet the short timeline meant only existing technologies would be available. If that was not challenging enough, the company culture was such that most products had a time-to-market of 48 months and involved a slow bureaucratic process with multiple departments needing to sign-on for each decision. Additionally, Apple still had not fully confronted the notion that their desktop core competencies were not necessarily going to translate into success in mobile computing. Despite these long odds, Apple not only prevailed, but created a revolutionary product called the PowerBook that brought in billions of dollars in revenue and revolutionized the conventional wisdom behind the company’s design philosophy.
Part of Apple’s struggle in mobile computing stemmed from being the pioneer of desktops. The company felt it knew what the market wanted based on its previous success. It was with the desktop in mind that Apple released the Portable, a mobile computer designed to do everything that a current desktop could do with the added benefit of being able to collapse into a carrying case and be taken on the road. At a staggering 17 pounds and a cost of $5000, the Portable was met with plenty of skepticism and was doomed for failure. The company had simply failed to take the customer’s needs into consideration. Instead of making it smaller and lighter, as the market demanded, Apple focused on functionality and battery life. This contributed to problematic weight and size problems for the machine. The failure to recognize what consumers demanded wasn’t Apple’s only development flaw. They also failed to recognize how quickly technological trends and consumer tastes were changing. The company was still developing products on a three to four year cycle and had yet to embrace a time-to-market philosophy. Instead priorities were still “time-to-perfection” with the company maintaining that it would not bring anything to market ‘before its time’. Additionally, they still had a desktop mentality, which meant strict design regulations that hindered the development of a sleeker, lighter computer. It was a combination of these factors that led to the failed release of the Portable and created the immediate need to development the PowerBook.
As Apple scrambled to assemble the PowerBook team, the project objective was clear; get a mobile computer to market at record speed and keep the size and weight to a minimum. The speed of develop was a major challenge to overcome and it was mainly due to the organizational structure. Apple structured its company by functions and departments. And instead of dedicating specific resources for a project, each department supported all projects. This led to a cumbersome and lengthy decision making process which typically involved project managers struggling to get objectives accomplished. Often times the project manager was relegated in authority and routinely superseded by functional heads with all decisions inevitably at the mercy of the president of Apple Products, John Louis Gassee. Apple realized its current structure lacked the dexterity to meet its time-to-market objective and driven by necessity made several...
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