Today in Apple history: Rumors fly that Canon might buy Apple

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Apple was up for sale in the 1990s.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

April 21 April 21, 1995: Rumors swirl that Canon (yes, the Japanese camera company!) might take over Apple in either a partial or complete acquisition.

Speculation grows about a possible deal after Apple reveals its latest earnings, which show big improvement but still fall far short of Wall Street’s expectations.

Sell, sell, sell

Although Canon denied interest, and neither Canon nor Apple ever publicly confirmed any such negotiations, the rumor mill in April 1995 buzzed about the possibilities. With AAPL shares trading at $35, Canon reportedly offered a not-insignificant $54.50 a share, representing a total valuation of $6.5 billion for Apple. (To put that in perspective, today the company is worth more than $700 billion.)

Canon might seem like an unlikely candidate to buy Apple, but in fact it was a pretty major tech player in the 1980s and ’90s. After Macintosh project founder Jef Raskin left Apple, Canon scooped him up and gave him the opportunity to develop his vision of the Macintosh. Released in 1987 as the Canon Cat, the computer failed to take off — despite critical acclaim and decent sales.

Not long after, in June 1989, Canon paid $100 million for 16.67 percent of Steve Jobs’ post-Apple company, NeXT, which was eventually acquired by Apple. Canon later provided another $10 million to $20 million in 1991, and extended a $55 million credit line in 1992.

Canon manufactured the NeXT Computer’s optical disc drive, and Jobs ultimately sold NeXT’s hardware business to Canon in 1993.

Apple acquisition rumors made sense

The idea that Canon might acquire Apple therefore wasn’t totally unreasonable. It came at a time when Apple CEO Mike Spindler was desperately trying to offload the company to anyone who would buy it.

Other potential (serious) purchasers included IBM and the now-defunct Sun Microsystems. Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Philips and Toshiba also got approached, although those discussions never went too far.

Ultimately, the Apple-Canon deal (obviously) never happened. In April 1995, Cupertino was enjoying a brief respite from the “bad old days” of the 1990s, thanks to increased demand for Macs. In its second quarter of 1995, Apple earned $73 million — more than four times the $17 million it made the same quarter a year earlier.

Before too long, Spindler was out at Apple, replaced by Gil Amelio, who harbored a different strategy for turning Apple around. Then, by the end of 1996, Steve Jobs returned, Amelio got ousted, and Apple was primed for its comeback. Things could have been very, very different though.

Any longtime tech fans want to speculate on where a Canon-run Apple would be today? Leave your comments below.

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