October 6, 1997: Michael Dell makes an incredibly bleak appraisal of Apple’s fortunes. Asked what he would do with the struggling company, the founder of Dell Inc. says he would “shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”
As incorrect forecasts go, this ultimately will go down as one of the more notable in tech history. But it doesn’t seem that way at the time.
Michael Dell blasts Apple amid changing tech landscape
To give Dell the benefit of the doubt, he’s a smart guy. Only in his early 30s at the time of his infamous blunder — making him a decade younger than Apple co-founder Steve Jobs — the pioneering entrepreneur had already made billions selling built-to-order PCs directly to consumers.
Sure, Jobs was back in Cupertino running things again, but he hadn’t fared too well with his non-Apple company NeXT. And all Jobs had to show for his return as Apple CEO was a new advertising campaign — minus any actual new products.
For this reason, Dell’s comment struck a nerve with Jobs, who took time out of his next Apple keynote to respond to Dell’s “rude” comment.
“We’re coming after you, buddy!” Jobs said.
Michael Dell softens his stance on Apple
In recent years, Dell walked back his infamous statement, which came during a talk at a Gartner Symposium. During a Q&A at TechCrunch’s Web 2.0 Summit in 2011, which you can watch below, Dell “clarified” his earlier comment, saying he only suggested he would close shop at Apple because he was so dedicated to running Dell at the time.
Ironically, Dell’s dismissive 1997 comment came just as Cupertino prepared to engage in an epic turnaround. In fact, Apple became profitable again the very next year.
The company roiled the computer industry with the iMac G3, which launched in 1998. Then Apple followed that hit with the iBook in 1999, the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010.
Cupertino’s Dell-like strategy of selling computers over the internet also turned out pretty darn well. And of course, today Apple’s market cap sits north of $2.7 trillion, making it the most valuable publicly traded company in the world.
Are there other notorious Apple doom predictions you remember? Leave your comments below.