It was easy to dismiss Apple when Steve Jobs took back the reins in 1997. It seemed for a while that the company’s only reason for existence was as a fig leaf, allowing Microsoft to claim Windows was not a monopoly. Redmond even bought a substantial amount of Apple stock, maybe as a gesture of support.
But Steve Jobs turned the company around completely. First, he decided the fundamental question: software or hardware? Software was going to be the ticket, from now on. Apple would buy off-the-shelf components to create best-of-breed hardware, but the focus was going to be on functionality and integration, not on capabilities and differentiation.
2001 was the landmark year. Jobs presented the iPod, the world’s first decent digital music player. Better than just that, Jobs presented an entirely new business: the $0.99 song. He had successfully found the weak spot of the music industry, caught between its old (and cheating) ways of bundling crappy songs with good ones (“albums”) to upsell, and the new ways of consumers to ignore paying altogether (“Napster”).
In that sweet spot, he created a revolution. Around that same time, Google revolutionized advertising and Amazon selling. It was a good time for the Internet.