Here were some of the crazy ideas floated to keep Apple from going out of business in 1997

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Wired magazine’s June 1997 cover.
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Wired

If you ask the tech industry, Apple is no longer the sure thing it just was.

This week, Mary Meeker indicated that sales of the iPhone may have peaked, and Amazon could pick up the slack.

Before that, a prominent developer questioned whether Apple was investing enough in artificial intelligence to avoid the fate of Blackberry.

But this isn’t even close to Apple’s lowest point.

In June 1997, 19 years ago, Wired magazine ran a now-famous cover: Apple’s “six colors” logo, covered in barbed wire, joined by a single word.

“Pray.”

The actual article is titled “101 Ways to Save Apple.” It offers a unique look into Apple’s very worst moment. Just remember, this is before people knew that Steve Jobs was going to save the day.


Just to set the scene, Apple was in big trouble when Wired’s “Pray” cover ran in June 1997. Longtime CEO John Sculley left the company in 1993 after a sales slide and a series of missteps like the Newton personal assistant.


Sculley was replaced by Michael Spindler, even as the company’s fortunes continued to sag. Spindler’s big failing was that he DIDN’T sell Apple to Sun for fire sale prices of $6 a share. Investors wanted some kind of return, so Spindler was ousted, too.

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YouTube

In 1996, Gil Amelio got the job. Not quite knowing what else to do, and facing serious pressure, Amelio spearheaded the purchase of NeXT, Steve Jobs’ own PC company, bringing the Apple cofounder back into the fold.

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Lou Dematteis/Reuters

(Jobs would go on to oust Amelio in a boardroom coup, not too long after this Wired article came out. But the magazine didn’t know that at the time.)


The world regarded bringing Jobs back as an interesting move, but only the most hardcore Apple fans thought it would make any kind of impact. Which brings us back to Wired.

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Wired

Wired’s first suggestion: “Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game. Outsource your hardware production, or scrap it entirely, to compete more directly with Microsoft without the liability of manufacturing boxes.”

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YouTube

This was half-right; if Apple had gotten out of hardware entirely, it’s unlikely we’d have gotten the smash-hit iPhone. And the Mac is a solid business in its own right. But Apple’s production has moved to Foxconn and other Chinese factories.

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Kin Cheung/AP

“Don’t disappear from the retail chains. Rent space in a computer store, flood it with Apple products (especially software), staff it with Apple salespeople, and display everything like you’re a living, breathing company and not a remote, dusty concept.”

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Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Maybe Jobs was inspired by Wired, because in 2001 Apple basically did just that. Instead of renting space in other stores, though, the first Apple Store was its own beast.

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Ken Ishii/Stringer/Getty Images

“Take better care of your customers. You need every one. Make customer service a point of pride. Many Mac users feel alienated and have jumped ship.”

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

That’s where the Apple Store’s famous Genius Bar came in. By making customer support friendly and helpful, it built real relationships.

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Claudio Villa/Getty Images

“Dump (or outsource) the Newton, eMate, digital cameras, and scanners.” Under Sculley, Amelio, and Spindler, the Apple portfolio had gotten bloated with flops that were barely treading water.

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Jim Abeles/Flickr

Jobs mercilessly cut down on Apple’s product lineup when he took over. Now, Apple likes to say that you can fit all of its products on a reasonably-sized kitchen table.

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REUTERS/Hannibal

“Sell yourself to IBM or Motorola, the PowerPC makers. You can become the computer division that Motorola wants or the alternative within IBM. This would give the company volume for its PowerPC devices and leverage for other PowerPC offerings.”

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Wikimedia Commons

Funny story: Of those three companies, only Apple is still making PCs. Imagine a world where the Mac didn’t even exist, let alone the iPhone, because Apple sold itself in 1997.

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Mario Tama / Getty

“Continue your research in voice recognition. It’s the only way you’re going to compete in videoconferencing and remote access.”

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Ricky Thakrar / flickr

Nailed it. Apple’s Siri became the first mainstream voice assistant in 2011, when it came out with the iPhone 4S.

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Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

“Give Steve Jobs as much authority as he wants in new product development. Let Gil Amelio stick to operations. There’s no excitement at the top, and Apple’s customers want to feel like they’ve joined a computer revolution. Even if Jobs fails, he’ll do it with guns a-blazin’, and we’ll be spared this slow water torture that Amelio has subjected us to.”


Well, Wired wasn’t wrong. But who could have predicted Jobs’ power grab at Apple?

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Justin Sullivan / Getty

“Make Java work on your OS. Then develop an enterprise computing strategy in partnership with Sun. Java is not a magic bullet, but supporting it will keep Mac owners happy and prevent them from looking elsewhere.”

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Getty Images

Not a bad idea, given the mega-popularity of Java. But Google just fended off a $9 billion lawsuit from Oracle, which bought Sun, over the use of Java in the Android operating system, so who knows how this could have ended.

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

“Team up with Sony, which wants to get into the computer business in a big way — think Sony MacMan.”

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Wikimedia, CC

Well, Apple did come up with a portable music-playing computer — the iPod. The bad news for Sony is that it had nothing to do with it.

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Justin Sullivan / Getty

“Merge with Sega and become a game company.”

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Ronald Wong

Uhh … no. Though it’s worth noting that Sega killed its hardware business in 2001 — while the iPod, iPhone, and now the Apple TV are all gaming platforms in their own right.

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Apple

“Maintain existing loyalty at all costs. Use incentives like free upgrades and stock certificates. Gimmicky? Sure. But it helps create a bond and a religious following.”

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‘Eye Wide Shut’
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YouTube

Indeed, Apple has made many updates to its OS X operating system free. That includes OS X El Capitan, the latest version.

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Business Insider

“Do something creative with the design of the box and separate yourselves from the pack. The original Macs stood out because of their innovative look. Repeat that.”

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YouTube

In 1998, Apple debuted the iMac, an all-in-one candy-colored computer. It certainly looked like nothing else on the shelves, and it made a huge dent.

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Mousse Mousse/Reuters

Not all the suggestions were so serious. “Organize a telethon. Hire Jerry Lewis to get dewy-eyed over the new line of Mac products.”

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Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

“Advice to Gil Amelio: shorter speeches, tighter pants.”

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Youtube screenshot

Seriously, there are a lot more. Some good, some bad. The point is that Apple was in trouble, and everybody seemed to know how to fix it except Apple’s leadership. One of the first things Jobs did was call in Microsoft for investment cash to right the ship.

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Jim Bourg/Reuters

And while Apple may be losing a little bit of confidence, it’s been in worse places and survived. Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor as CEO, shows every sign of knowing what he’s doing.

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REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Oh, wait, one more from Wired: “Return to the heady days of yore by insisting that Steve Jobs regrow his beard.” Well, OK. But he was more well groomed this time.

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Alessia Pierdomenico / Reuters