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Letter From the Editor: Apple's Tree of Knowledge

"I owned all three versions of the Newton," blurted Fast Company art director Dean Markadakis during a recent editorial gathering. "I've had every Mac since 1984."

Markadakis isn't normally so voluble, but this time, he couldn't restrain himself. We were discussing the ever-growing legion of Apple-istas, and he had to share his bona fides.

Enthusiasm like Markadakis's is everywhere these days. The Apple brand has become an icon, not only for customers but also for businesses across the economy. Executives in even far-removed industries seek to establish their firms as the Apple of their fields. What other entity has seen the release of a new product — the iPad — greeted as front-page news?

Much has been written about what makes Apple special, often focused on the personality of Steve Jobs, but very few observers predicted the turbo boost to Apple's status in the past couple of years. Fast Company itself has been guilty of underappreciating Apple's potential. While we extolled the company in our recent Most Innovative Companies lists (ranking it No. 2, No. 4, and No. 2, respectively, over the past three years), we published a dreadfully wrongheaded analysis in late 2003 that criticized iTunes and asserted that "value-driven business-model innovation is precisely the sort of thing Apple is lousy at." In a late 2007 cover story, "All Eyes on Apple," we cautioned that Apple's stock — then $185 a share — was priced for perfection, and that competitors from Nokia to Google were massing for an offensive, as the forces of collaboration stalked Apple's closed-system approach. We were right for a while: The stock dropped to $85 a share over the following year. But we failed to see what was around the corner — the App Store. Apple's decision to open up development for the iPhone sparked a surge in the company's reputation, its financials, and its share price (now $250). In hindsight, we gave too much credit to Apple's competitors and not enough to Apple itself.

Which is one reason we're presenting "Apple Nation," this issue's cover story by Farhad Manjoo. Not to make amends, but to explain what we and others have missed, misperceived, and either overcomplicated or oversimplified about the company's success. Apple is the signature business enterprise of our era. It is also, of course, an absolutely unique creation, and understanding what can be replicated or applied to other companies — and what can't — may be the most important lesson of all.

At Fast Company, we sometimes aspire to be the Apple of business media. While we don't have a Steve Jobs on the team, we do have Markadakis, who brings to our products a distinctive aesthetic — influenced, no doubt, by his long-standing Apple addiction. Like Markadakis with his Newtons and his MacBooks and his brand-new iPad, our goal is to get you to savor our creations — each of which, we hope, is an improvement over the last.

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.