Ten years ago today, Apple did something extraordinary, but it didn’t seem like it at the time. Like the story of a butterfly flapping its wings and eventually causing a tsunami halfway around the world, this had a profound impact on the trajectory and fortunes of Apple over the next decade. It’s something you don’t often hear about, even from fervent Apple watchers, but it was the day “Hell Froze Over.”
On October 16, 2003, Apple launched “the best Windows program ever”—iTunes for Windows. Back then Apple had a whopping 3.2% and declining US computer market share. The idea of Apple writing software for the PC was heresy inside of Apple.
The recent iBook by Fast Company’s Max Chafkin, based on an oral history of Apple called Design Crazy, gets into the details for the first time I’ve ever seen it. It gives the credit to Apple’s SVP of Marketing Phil Schiller and Jon Rubenstein, Apple’s SVP of Hardware Engineering. Steve Jobs wanted to keep Apple software and devices only on Macintosh computers. Jon and Phil saw the value of spreading out onto PCs while Jobs persisted, and from the story below it happened in a typical Steve Jobs kind of way. Rubenstein said:
We argued with Steve a bunch [about putting iTunes on Windows], and he said no. Finally, Phil Schiller and I said ‘we’re going to do it.’ And Steve said, ‘Fuck you guys, do whatever you want. You’re responsible.’ And he stormed out of the room.
That opened up the iPod to the 97% of people who had PCs.
They could see how well the software worked with the hardware.
They learned how easy it was to upgrade.
Their first iPods turned into their first iPhones.
Then they realized that their lives would be a lot easier if they switched to a Macintosh all together.
And along the way Apple’s market cap climbed to the most valuable company in the world.
That’s why I have this vintage Hell Freezes Over poster in my NYC office—it reminds me of one of the best strategic decisions a company has ever made.