Having learned several painful lessons after introducing the bulky Macintosh Portable in 1989, Apple introduced the PowerBook in 1991. The Macintosh Portable was designed to be just as powerful as a desktop Macintosh, but weighed 7.5 kilograms (17 lb) with a 12-hour battery life. The same year, Apple introduced System 7, a major upgrade to the operating system, which added color to the interface and introduced new networking capabilities. It remained the architectural basis for Mac OS until 2001.
The success of the PowerBook and other products brought increasing revenue. For some time, it appeared that Apple could do no wrong, introducing fresh new products and generating increasing profits in the process. The magazine MacAddict named the period between 1989 and 1991 as the “first golden age” of the Macintosh.
Following the success of the Macintosh LC, Apple introduced the Centris line, a low-end Quadra offering, and the ill-fated Performa line that was sold in several confusing configurations and software bundles to avoid competing with the various consumer outlets such as Sears, Price Club, and Wal-Mart, who were the primary dealers for these models. The result was disastrous for Apple as consumers did not understand the difference between models.
During this time Apple experimented with a number of other failed consumer targeted products including digital cameras, portable CD audio players, speakers, video consoles, and TV appliances. Enormous resources were also invested in the problem-plagued Newton division based on John Sculley’s unrealistic market forecasts. Ultimately, all this proved too-little-too-late, as Apple’s market share and stock prices continued to slide.
Apple saw the Apple II series as too expensive to produce, while taking away sales from the low end Macintosh. In 1990, Apple released the Macintosh LC with a single expansion slot for the Apple IIe Card to migrate Apple II users to the Macintosh platform. Apple stopped selling the Apple IIe in 1993.
Microsoft continued to gain market share with Windows focusing on delivering software to cheap commodity personal computers while Apple was delivering a richly engineered, but expensive, experience. Apple relied on high profit margins and never developed a clear response. Instead they sued Microsoft for using a graphical user interface similar to the Apple Lisa in Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation. The lawsuit dragged on for years before it was finally dismissed. At the same time, a series of major product flops and missed deadlines sullied Apple’s reputation, and Sculley was replaced by Michael Spindler.
The Newton was Apple’s first foray into the PDA markets, as well as one of the first in the industry. Despite being a financial flop at the time of its release, it helped pave the way for the Palm Pilot and Apple’s own iPhone and iPad in the future.
By the early 1990s, Apple was developing alternative platforms to the Macintosh, such as the A/UX. Apple had also begun to experiment in providing a Mac-only online portal which they called eWorld, developed in collaboration with America Online and designed as a Mac-friendly alternative to other online services such as CompuServe. The Macintosh platform was itself becoming outdated because it was not built for multitasking, and several important software routines were programmed directly into the hardware. In addition, Apple was facing competition from OS/2 and UNIX vendors like Sun Microsystems. The Macintosh would need to be replaced by a new platform, or reworked to run on more powerful hardware.
In 1994, Apple allied with IBM and Motorola in the AIM alliance. The goal was to create a new computing platform (the PowerPC Reference Platform), which would use IBM and Motorola hardware coupled with Apple’s software. The AIM alliance hoped that PReP’s performance and Apple’s software would leave the PC far behind, thus countering Microsoft. The same year, Apple introduced the Power Macintosh, the first of many Apple computers to use Motorola’s PowerPC processor.
In 1996, Michael Spindler was replaced by Gil Amelio as CEO. Gil Amelio made many changes at Apple, including extensive layoffs. After multiple failed attempts to improve Mac OS, first with the Taligent project, then later with Copland and Gershwin, Amelio chose to purchase NeXT and its NeXTSTEP operating system, bringing Steve Jobs back to Apple as an advisor. On July 9, 1997, Gil Amelio was ousted by the board of directors after overseeing a three-year record-low stock price and crippling financial losses. Jobs became the interim CEO and began restructuring the company’s product line.
At the 1997 Macworld Expo, Steve Jobs announced that Apple would join Microsoft to release new versions of Microsoft Office for the Macintosh, and that Microsoft made a $150 million investment in non-voting Apple stock.
On November 10, 1997, Apple introduced the Apple Online Store, tied to a new build-to-order manufacturing strategy.