Why Apple should celebrate its history with an Official Apple Archive [Opinion]

By

Why Apple should celebrate its history with an Official Apple Archive [Opinion]
It was great while it lasted!
Photo: Unofficial Apple Archive

Apple took a proverbial sledgehammer to the Unofficial Apple Archive, an online collection of more than 15,000 classic Apple ads and assorted other materials, last weekend. Cupertino’s legal team issued a slew of takedown notices to Vimeo and the Unofficial Apple Archive’s host provider, Squarespace, resulting in thousands of vintage Apple ads vanishing in the blink of an eye.

While I understand the reason for the takedowns, I really, really wish Apple hadn’t tried to wipe the ads off the internet. Fortunately, Apple could set things straight — by embracing both its past and its most ardent fans.

Apple is within its rights … but is it right?

Apple is, of course, totally within its rights to delete old ads. It commissioned them and owns the copyrights. It can get rid of them if it wants. Plus, if Apple doesn’t assert its ownership, others might feel free to start using Apple footage on their own channels. This is why Apple took down the equally unofficial EveryAppleVideo YouTube channel in 2017.

This latest move is totally in keeping with the company’s thinking, too. Steve Jobs inculcated a forward-looking philosophy at Apple that didn’t dwell on the past. When he left Apple in the mid-1980s, he didn’t even bother cleaning out his office. Personal mementos like his first Apple stock certificate, once hung on his wall, got thrown in the trash.

When Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, one of his first acts was to give away the company’s historical archive to Stanford University Libraries. Preserving the past? Not really. As Jobs explained in an email to an Apple employee who once suggested staging a celebratory event for the company’s 30th birthday, “Apple is focused on the future, not the past.” He didn’t want people coasting on past glories.

In recent years, Apple CEO Tim Cook slightly softened this stance. Apple changed its homepage for the Mac’s 30th birthday in 2014. Cupertino’s keynotes sometimes contain nods to old Apple products, such as the vintage PowerBook 100. Cook even named the place Apple does its keynote events the Steve Jobs Theater.

Would Apple under Steve Jobs have agreed to put out the nostalgic Jony Ive tribute book Made by Apple in California, which lovingly paid tribute to old designs? I can’t say for sure. But everything about Jobs’ behavior would suggest he wouldn’t have been keen on it.

Scrubbing Apple’s past

It’s not just third-party Vimeo and YouTube channels that get their old Apple content scrubbed, either. Apple periodically deletes (or, at least, makes private) old ads on its YouTube channel. That’s so as to avoid product confusion when people see an ad, on Apple’s official channel, for old products it no longer sells. Apple promotes simplicity in everything it does. Why wouldn’t it do the same for marketing?

All of this makes perfect sense to me. But it’s still a shame. Apple is, by far, the oldest of the FAANG tech giants. It benefits from a fan base that doesn’t just rush out to buy new Apple products but, in some cases, collects old ones. Old PCs wind up on trash heaps, but old Macs end up in museums. Or on auction blocks. Or re-created as plush toys for a nostalgic generation.

Sam Henri Gold, the 18-year-old college student from Connecticut who started the Unofficial Apple Archive, is one such fan. “I started it as a resource for kids like me who grew up on this stuff, but had trouble tracking down half-decent versions of the videos,” Gold told Cult of Mac.

After the takedown that trashed his labor of love in the blink of an eye, he’s bummed out. “I like to think this wasn’t a personal attack and that it’s just policy to take down videos,” he said. “But it sucks.”

Making an Official Apple Archive

Do I think Apple was right to gut the Unofficial Apple Archive? I think it was within its rights to. But why can’t it do what it did with music piracy in the early 2000s?

With a generation of people growing up with Napster and expectations of free music, Apple introduced the iTunes Store. This was a place, controlled by Apple, that made it legal to get digital music without fuss. Apple could do the same with its wealth of archival materials.

An Apple minisite featuring high-resolution copies of old Apple keynotes, print ads and TV commercials would be met with joy by fans. It would be a historical archive with real value.

Would such a thing make Apple a lot of money in the short term? Simply put, no. However, it would reward people who have followed Apple for years. And, although it’s no longer a cult company beloved by a relatively small user base, there would be no harm in appealing to those people who have stuck by Apple for decades.

Heck, you could chalk the whole thing up as an educational tool from a company that loves education. In a world of digital impermanence, archiving performs a crucial role. Apple could even get Gold on board with the project. (He says he emailed Apple about “working together to create a public archive.” No response yet, but he remains hopeful.)

Tim Cook often says Apple does some things for more than just immediate return on investment. An Official Apple Archive would be one. Even if browsing it would mean that I never get any work done again.